Everyone (except me!) in our family has birthdays between March and April. It dawned on me this year that the gift of a homemade cake is the gift I give. It is a labor of love and I care about it deeply. We spend weeks talking about what type of cake the birthday boy(s) want for their special days. Apparently, we’re bringing back the 80’s this year because Kai picked a Pac Man cake and JP wants a Rubik’s cube cake.
Kai’s cake was a 3-layer Neapolitan cake shaped like Pac Man. He picked out bright yellow sprinkles and we used black fondant for Pac Man’s eye. For JP’s birthday he picked a 3-layer white cake with lemon curd and Italian lemon meringue buttercream.
Over the years, I have made many different types of frostings but my favorites are Italian meringue and Swiss meringue Buttercream. The first time I tried to make Italian meringue buttercream I couldn’t get the egg whites to transform into the voluminous mass it was supposed to. I learned how and am now adore meringues. I find them absolutely beautiful, something other-worldly.
There are three different types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian. This recipe utilizes the French style. It was the first type of meringue I successfully made. It’s a basic meringue of egg whites, cream of tartar and fine sugar. To create the marshmallow-y center that I so love, we add lemon juice and cornstarch. Meyer lemon zest adds just the right amount of brightness and citrus zing to make the whole treat truly amazing.
Successfully making a meringue is actually quite simple. I’ll let you in on the tips I learned:
- Let the egg whites sit out on the counter to warm up for at least 30 minutes. This will help the whites reach their full volume. As the whites warm, they will thin out and resemble liquid more than thick gel.
- Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk. Residual oils can inhibit the whites from whipping.
- Whip on high. Turn that mixer up and let it do its thing. Medium speed just won’t do.
- Add cream of tartar to keep the egg whites from drying out.
- Go slow adding the sugar to prevent it from being gritty. Feel it between your fingers and if its gritty then put it back on high and whip until the meringue is smooth.
Meyer Lemon Meringue Cookies
The crisp outer shell and marshmallow-y center, make these meringue cookies irresistible. Not only are these delicious, they’re also gluten free! These puff up slightly but I fit about 12 on each 11×17 baking sheet.
Yield: 24 meringue cookies
Active time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour
- 4 egg whites (120g), room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (200g) fine sugar (or granulated pulsed in a food processor for 25 seconds)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice
- Zest of 2 Meyer lemons (about a tablespoon)
- Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Start on low and mix with the whisk attachment. After 30 seconds start increasing speed until the mixer is at high speed. Continue to whip the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage – about 3 minutes from start to finish.
- Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, start adding the sugar one spoonful at a time. Go slowly to allow the sugar to be incorporated, about 4 minutes. The meringue will look shiny and thick. Once the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer and feel the mixture between your fingers to be sure it isn’t gritty feeling. If gritty, continue mixing on high speed and check every 30 seconds.
- Once the meringue feels smooth stop the mixer and unhook the bowl from the mixer. Sprinkle cornstarch, Meyer lemon juice, and lemon zest over meringue and gently fold in with a flexible spatula.
- Use a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or spoon to drop meringue on to the cookie sheets.
- Bake until the meringues are puffed, firm to the touch, and release from the paper easily. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let the cookies cool completely, about 1 hour. Once cool remove from the oven and store in an air tight container at room temperature. Meringues will stay crisp for about 4 days.