This is an idea of Virginia Willis’ that she posted on her blog. As someone whose favorite desserts include meringues as well as caramel sauce, the idea the two could be cooked together was amazing. Virginia’s meringues were more like oval bowls, with hollows for caramel sauce (any sauce will do — store-bought is fine, certainly for the first time). But I did all sorts of other things as well: drizzled the sauce on traditional meringues, made tiny ones and large ones, baskets and other shapes. Meringues and caramel sauce are both inexpensive, so it is worth taking a bit of time and playing with designs and fashion one to your own liking. Amazingly, because the temperature is so low the caramel sauce doesn’t burn. — Nathalie Dupree
1 recipe traditional simple meringues (recipe follows)
Store-bought caramel sauce
Whisk the meringues according to the directions and shape into oval bowls, baskets or other favorite shapes. Fill bowls or baskets nearly to the top with caramel sauce, or drizzle over meringues. Bake as below.
Makes 60 to 70
In humid places such as much of the South, they are particularly difficult to make. The whole point of drying them is to get rid of the moisture, and in humid weather they are surrounded by it. Ideally, they are crisp and white when cooked. Cooking time varies radically according to the humidity.
Although the sought-after perfection is white meringues with no brown, those of us accustomed to making them in the South have grown to love them when the result is a pale brown, lightly caramelized meringue. Many of us even think they taste better.
Since the ratio of two portions of sugar to one portion of egg white is the same no matter how many eggs are whipped, this recipe works as well when halved or quartered.
8 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
2 cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper, or oil, sprinkle with flour and, using the side of the hand, smack the pan to distribute the flour evenly over the pan, discarding any excess that doesn’t cling. The pans should be no longer than the length from the front of the oven when the door is closed to the back. If the pans are larger, halve the recipe, using just one pan, rather than have the pans one directly under the other or have the meringue mixture sit over an hour while the first batch dries.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in an electric stand mixer, preferably with a rotary whisk, or by hand, until stiff peaks form and the egg whites barely slide in the bowl when tipped. Beat in half the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until the meringue is very stiff and shiny. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top and fold in with a metal spoon or rubber spatula, using an 8-shaped motion to go down to the bottom of the pan and back up again, turning the bowl between each “eight.”
To make small oval bowls or baskets, spoon or pipe the meringue mixture into 3-inch rounds on the prepared pan. Make a slight depression with a damp spoon or your finger in the center of each round. Bake to dry the meringues 1 to 3 hours. Remove the meringues when they are dry throughout — 1 hour for the very small ones; longer the larger they are. They should be white, and free of stickiness. When they are completely dry, the meringues may be kept covered in an airtight container, or frozen. If frozen, dry briefly in the oven if necessary before eating.
Tip: Once we made meringues on a very humid day. When they were dry, I turned off the oven and left them in there overnight, thinking it was going to be sufficiently airtight. Instead, the next morning they had reverted back to their stickiness. We preheated the oven again and put them back in. With time they dried, but they did turn brown by the time they were dry. Still it was nice to know they could go back in rather than having to be discarded.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 14 cookbooks, including the James Beard award-winning “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.