I don’t think I ever started out just to make meringues; I made a dish that called for egg yolks, and needed something to do with the egg whites other than tossing them. Meringues are ridiculously easy, and fun to pass around/give away when they are done. And, you’ll find lots of uses if you’re adventurous.
3 large egg whites, at room temperature (see Tip)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (see TIPS)
Separate one egg at a time into a small bowl, letting the white fall into the bowl and discarding the yolk. If there’s any trace of yolk in the white, discard the white (or save the whole egg for scrambled eggs the next day) and start over. If it’s yolk-free, transfer to a clean medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs.
Add cream of tartar to the whites and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar has been added. Continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy. Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds more.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 200°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place a small amount of the meringue under each corner of the paper to secure it to the pan. Fill a pastry/piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip with the meringue. Working with the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, pipe the meringue into the desired size (or shape, if you’ve used a star tip, or the like), spacing them about 1/2 inch apart.
Bake until dry and crisp throughout, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. If the day is particularly humid, leave them in the oven with the door slightly ajar until it’s cool.
Want something other than vanilla? Substitute other flavorings in place of the vanilla; like cutting hair, start small, then increase the amount until it’s where you want it to be. You can taste, but you’re eating raw egg white. Rather, I prefer to rely on my nose to tell me when I’ve got it where I want it. Caramel makes a great meringue; you can even sprinkle a little sea salt on it before you cook it.
Freeze-dried fruits – strawberries, raspberries, etc. – make a great addition. Put the fruit in your food processor and pulse it until you have a fine powder. Use the powder, judiciously, to add both flavor and color at the same time. I’ve even used a powdered lemonade mix, but you’ll want to be careful not to overdo the sweetness by cutting back on the sugar.
A sprinkling of crushed peppermint makes for a great holiday treat; same for powdered chocolate. Or why not both???
There’s a great meringue-based dessert out there called a Pavlova. It’s on-site here.