The first time I made Italian meringues I was sure there was a misprint in the recipe. Imagine pouring hot sugar syrup into almost beaten, notoriously fragile egg whites and expecting them to remain stable.
Wonder of wonders. It worked beautifully, and further beating only made the egg whites thicker and fluffier. Every time I make Italian meringue I'm just as amazed.
The virtue of Italian meringues is they don't weep, crack or turn brown, and they keep for several days in a tightly covered container.
Meringues are wonderful low-calorie desserts. True, they're made with sugar, but they're fat-free, and if you fill them with fat-free frozen yogurt and sliced strawberries, you have a dessert that is lower in calories than strawberry shortcake but just as delicious.
Before you begin, make sure the bowl and beaters are spanking clean and bone-dry. You'll get more volume if the eggs are cold when they're separated but left at room temperature until they're beaten.
Fill shells with one of the fillings below, or use your own favorite.
Italian Meringue Shells
Makes 8 meringues
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt and beat until stiff peaks form.
In a small, heavy saucepan, mix sugar and water and stir well. Place mixture over medium-high heat and bring to a boil without stirring. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes or until bubbles thicken and a few drops dropped into ice water form a soft ball (238 degrees on a candy thermometer).
With the mixer on medium speed, add the vanilla to the whites and pour the hot syrup into the beaten egg whites in a slow, steady stream. Beat until the mixture is completely cool, smooth and shiny, anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes.
Heat oven to 200 degrees and place meringue mixture into a piping bag with a 1/2 -inch star or plain tip. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil or wax paper. Using a cup or small saucer, trace 8 (3-inch) rounds on the paper with a toothpick or skewer. Spray lightly with baking spray.
Beginning in the center of each round, pipe out the meringue in concentric circles. To form the sides, pipe 2 or 3 additional rings on top of the outside edge. The meringue also can be spooned on the 3-inch circle outlines and smoothed into a shell shape using a rubber spatula.
Bake meringues 2 hours, or until dry and crisp but not brown.
Cool on the baking sheet, then peel off paper.
Peach Melba Filling
Puree a 10-ounce package thawed frozen raspberries, 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons lemon juice in a food processor or blender. Fill meringue with peach frozen yogurt and cover with sauce.
Chocolate Pudding Filling
Prepare 2 packages chocolate pudding following package directions. Fill shells with pudding and top with whipped cream and toasted sliced almonds.
Combine 3 cups berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries) with 2 cups sweetened whipped cream. Pile onto shells and garnish with a mint leaf.
Strawberry Tart Filling
Stem 1 quart ripe strawberries and slice thickly. Combine in a bowl with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon almond flavoring. Fill meringue shells with strawberry frozen yogurt and top with the strawberries.
Banana and Kiwi Filling
In a bowl, combine 2 sliced bananas, 4 peeled and sliced kiwis and 1/4 cup orange juice. Fill meringue shells and sprinkle with coconut.