Mission Accomplished...

For me, baking is a hobby. Some people golf, some people read, some people make arts and crafts, but what all hobbyists have in common is a craving to challenge themselves and have new experiences within their chosen avocation. Much as I enjoy baking unfussy, delicious cookies, I sometimes get struck by a whim to try something new and expand my skill set. These whims often result in overly ambitious projects, not all of which are successful. An attempt a couple years ago to turn my love of caramelized bananas into a banana upside-down cake was a resounding failure, for example.

When I was scouring my various baking books and magazines in search of cookie recipes to prepare this holiday season, I became completely smitten with a photo in Martha Stewart's
Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And Share (from which I seem to be drawing a lot of inspiration this year) of red and white striped, peppermint flavored meringue cookies sandwiched together with chocolate filling. They were spectacularly attractive, and I couldn't get them out of my mind. "What is wrong with me?" I wondered, "I don't even like meringues!" It didn't seem to matter that I didn't even want to eat them, I had never made meringues before and I was curious about whether I could do it or not.

I tried putting the cookies out of my mind, and was partially aided by some very negative reviews on the Martha Stewart website about the cookies' lack of longevity and people's woes in replicating Martha's results. I thought I had talked myself out of it completely when I found myself separating a boatload of eggs for a batch of spanakiropita I made over the weekend. I only needed the yolks, and the bowl of egg whites was sitting right there on the counter, taunting me. I'd already made Chocolate Peppermint Cookies and sugar cookies in the past 48 hours, but I figured, "What the heck?"

I whipped out the stand mixer, a double boiler, and the new cake decorating set that I got as an early Christmas present from Mom last week, and went to work. The egg whites didn't inflate quite as much as I thought they would, but they reached a state of stiff peaks, so I pressed forward. I made a huge mess attempting to paint stripes inside the piping bag using red food coloring, as per Martha's instructions -- she must think that people have child-size hands to accomplish this task.
The piping itself (my first attempt in the past decade or so since I took a cake decorating workshop in elementary school) did not go so well at first, but once I figured out the necessary muscle movement, my success rate improved considerably.
You can really tell the difference between my first sheet of meringues on the left, and my more practiced set on the right. I ended up eating the worst rejects for "quality control" purposes.

After baking for nearly two hours at a low temperature in the oven, I thought I had been successful; the meringues seemed to have set, and they hadn't browned. I left them to cool completely, but when I went to remove them from the pan I discovered that they were still rather soft on the inside. I'm not sure what went wrong, other than perhaps oven temperature fluctuations (most ovens have a difficult time maintaining temperatures below 250 degrees.) I opted to try leaving them out overnight, hoping they would dry out further, which seemed to do the trick by morning.

The next night, I went to work creating the chocolate filling. Since my meringue-piping efforts had only produced about two-thirds of what Martha called for in the recipe, I made a corresponding amount of filling. Her instructions said to wait until the ganache could hold its shape before piping, but since I hadn't gotten home until after 10 o'clock that evening, I was short on time to wait for the filling to set up. I thought it was close enough when I started, but I was sorely mistaken. My attempt at getting the filling in the piping bag created an abysmal mess, with chocolate all over the counter and all over me. The ganache started running out of the piping bag as soon as I turned it over, because it was too fluid. I tried getting it on the flat surface of the meringues, but the filling just dripped off the edges. I ended up dipping the bottoms of the meringues in the chocolate that had pooled on the surface of the counter (the cool stone had brought the ganache to a better consistency), and sandwiching the cookies together that way. Still, even with the drippy chocolate, and the epic disaster I had created on the counter, the cookies were still gorgeous -- almost as pretty as Martha's.

As for the taste, the cookies proved to be somewhat of a revelation. Never have I had a meringue that I have enjoyed, but these might just make me a convert. They were crisp on the outside, marshmallow-y soft on the inside, with a big wallop of refreshing peppermint and a hint of chocolate, and they practically melted in your mouth. I brought the lion's share of the cookies to work the next day, where I hand-delivered them to a selection of my coworkers. Normally, when I bring cookies to work, I leave them anonymously in the break-room, but this time, after all the effort and all the mess, I wanted to see people's enjoyment first hand.
Hands down, the best response came from Luciana, the administrative assistant to several of the museum's top executives, who is apparently a huge fan of meringues. She insisted on taking a picture of them, because they were so festive, and she ran down the hall to find other coworkers, because they just had to try some of my meringues. That's what baking is all about in my book -- making people's day with a little piece of love from the kitchen.

Peppermint Meringues With Chocolate Filling
adapted from Martha Stewart

3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red food coloring paste
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; secure corners with masking tape. Fit a pastry bag with a small open-star tip. Set aside.
2. Make meringues: Put egg whites and sugar in a glass bowl. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir gently until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Mix in peppermint extract.
4. Using a new small paintbrush, paint 2 or 3 stripes of red food coloring inside the pastry bag. Fill bag with 1 to 2 cups meringue. Pipe small (3/4-inch-high) star shapes onto prepared baking sheets. Refill bag as necessary, adding food coloring each time.
5. Bake cookies until crisp but not brown, about 1 hour 40 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
6. Meanwhile, make ganache: Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until just simmering. Pour over chocolate in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth, about 5 minutes. Let ganache cool at room temperature, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until thick enough to hold its shape.
7. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip (such as Ateco #5) with ganache. Pipe a small amount onto bottom of 1 meringue. Sandwich with another. Repeat with remaining ganache and meringues. Transfer to wire racks; let set 30 minutes. Cookies can be stored in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.


  1. I don't know how you have the patience for this, but they sure are pretty. Will you be sharing any at the Wyatt Christmas?

  2. Probably not, all the ones from this batch are long gone, and I'm probably not going to have the time to make another with all the other cookies I'll be baking this weekend.