• 4 large egg whites
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 1/8 tsp fresh lemon juice
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or hazelnuts
1. Bring all the ingredients to room temperature — about 68-70 F. Preheat your oven to 250 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites, salt, and lemon juice on low speed until frothy (yolks will still have a yellow-tinged translucent quality, with foam forming on the top). Once they’re combined, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the egg whites are starting to look like whipped cream and beginning to form soft peaks, 3-5 minutes. How to determine soft peaks – stop the mixer and pull the beater out of the mix straight up; it should have some meringue attached that forms a point (a peak), but when you gently tap the beater, the vibration should be enough to collapse that peak. Once at this stage, gradually add in the sugar and beat until well combined, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl once if necessary. Reduce speed to low and add the vanilla extract; beat until well combined.
3. Turn speed to medium-high once again and continue to whip until the mixture is glossy and stands in stiff peaks, approximately 5 minutes. Stiff peaks – like before, the meringue should form a peak on the beater when removed from the mix, but this time a gentle tap will not collapse the peak. At this point, remove the workbowl from the mixer; switch over to a spatula and gently fold in the ground nuts until just combined. FOLD, DON’T STIR. If you stir, you’ll destroy the foam, which defeats the purpose.
4. Drop the batter in heaping teaspoonfuls onto your cookie sheets approximately 1.5 inches apart. Bake the two sheets for 18 minutes. At this point, rotate the trays and switch racks; bake for 18 more minutes. Now turn off the oven BUT DON’T REMOVE THE COOKIES; let the cookies rest in the cooling oven for 30 minutes to fully set.
5. Pull the cookie sheets from the oven. Slide the parchment (with the cookies still attached) off the sheets and onto a cooling rack. Allow them to finish cooling completely. The cookies will likely be "stuck" to the parchment, but it's very easy to peel them off.
When making a recipe that calls for egg yolks only (such as, oh, I don't know, my lemon curd), separate and save the whites — pour them into an ice tray (one white is approximately one large ice cube) and freeze. Once they are completely frozen, remove them from the tray and place in a zip-top bag for long-term storage, then place back in the freezer. When getting ready to make this recipe, remove 4 egg white cubes, and allow them to melt and come to room temperature on their own.
You will need to make this recipe on a low humidity day, otherwise the meringues will not set up properly. Unlike a topping for a lemon meringue pie, these should be crisp all the way through, and lots of humidity in the air will actually hamper that – they are that sensitive. Meringues were more common in the winter months up and down the east coast, because summers were very humid, but the cooler winter air was usually very dry. Likewise, you'll notice that these bake at an incredibly low temperature. It's almost like you're drying them out instead of baking them.
Be sure to use a metal bowl and the whisk attachment on your standing mixer. Plastic or wood kitchen tools may still have traces of oil on them, and can interfere with the egg whites properly whipping. Notice there’s no fat in these? Like an angel food cake, meringues are fat-free (although this recipe does introduce a little bit of fat in the nuts). If you've never whipped egg whites before, it's not difficult — they look similar to whipping cream. Don't be afraid to stop the mixer to check the consistency, the whites won't deflate on you. Lots of recipes tell you to whip on high, but I have found medium-high to be just as effective. More so, really – the slightly slower speed allows finer air bubbles to get whipped in, which creates a more stable foam. The only thing you’ll need to be careful about is overwhipping – if your egg whites go past the “glossy” stage, you’ll work all the water out of them. The whites will get weepy and look like cottage cheese sitting in a puddle. That’s bad.
But be sure to fold in the nuts, rather than stir them — stirring will deflate the whites. To fold, take a spatula and either run it gently around the side of the bowl, sweeping the meringue across and “folding” it back down on itself. Or you can run the spatula right down the middle of the bowl, sweeping and folding. Just be gentle, and don’t worry about getting a fully incorporated mix. A little streak of unmixed meringue is just fine – it’s a sign that you haven’t overmixed.
Alternately, you may place the completed mixture into a piping bag and pipe them onto the parchment-lined trays for a more finished appearance. These cook in a low oven, so they will remain completely white, with just a touch of browning on the bottom. The parchment acts as a barrier to prevent further browning (albeit, a small barrier, but a barrier nonetheless). Also, if you only have one rack in your oven, you can hold the second tray on the counter while the first tray bakes, with no loss of quality.
As changeups, you can swap out the pecans or hazelnuts for finely chopped almonds, and add ½ tsp of almond extract along with the vanilla. Or you can finely zest a lemon and make lemon sugar (process the sugar and the zest in a food processor using 5 to 10 1-second pulses) and use that for a citrus meringue.
Pairs Well With
An excellent way to use up leftover egg whites. These cookies are delicate but extremely flavorful and have a nice, bright appearance. If you've never worked with whipped egg whites before, please see the notes below for some pointers.