It was eventually discovered that meringue hardens when baked at a low temperature (or simply left out in the air to dry), changing the texture to one that is pleasantly airy and crispy. In the seventeenth century this was often called “sugar puff,” which was sometimes flavored with caraway seeds, a tradition that continued to evolve with other flavorings, creating a large number of taste combinations.
"Kisses" were a popular nineteenth century confection featured in Eliza Leslie's Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats. In this recipe, the whites of four eggs were beaten until stiff, then a pound of powdered loaf sugar was added, one teaspoonful at a time, and finally twelve drops of lemon essence. To form the cookies, mounds of currant jelly were spaced an equal distance apart on a paper-lined baking tin and the egg white mixture spooned on top. They were then set in the bake oven at the end of the day (when it had cooled down), and considered done when a pale yellow color. The flat undersides of two cookies were attached and dried again in a cool oven until the bottoms were firmly stuck, creating a ball or oval shape.
The Meringues a la Crème served by James Parkinson as part of the "Pastry Course" at his seventeen- course Thousand Dollar Dinner in 1851 were perhaps a bit more elegant - tiny bite-sized baked meringues lightly flavored with vanilla and filled with cream or jelly. Rose meringues were tinted a delicate pink and flavored with rose water extract.
To recreate this recipe, I consulted a cookbook written by prolific nineteenth century chef and restauranteur Jessup Whitehead called Cooking for Profit: A New American Cook Book Adapted for the use of all Who Serve Meals for a Price. (Meant for those in the restaurant and hotel industries, it was originally published in the San Francisco Daily Hotel Gazette.)
It is really quite a simple recipe, it just requires a kitchen that is not too humid and some time to dry bake the cookies at a low heat. I used my stand mixer and am giving directions accordingly. Here's my adapted version:
Meringues a la Crème
- 2 cups of granulated sugar
- 6 egg whites, separated
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tablespoon rose water
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- Preheat the oven to 200F.
- Line four baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Beat three of egg whites with the sugar in a deep bowl until he mixture looks like firm white cake icing (about 10 minutes). Now add the remaining three egg whites, one at a time, beating a few minutes between each one. Just before the third is added, add the cream of tartar and flavoring and beat for about 30 seconds or until well mixed. It is essential to beat the mixture after the addition of each white until it rises in stiff peaks when the beater is lifted from it. However, the last white which should not be beaten much as it forms the gloss and smoothness on the meringues when they are baked.
5. Bake them at 200F with the oven door partly open if possible. The time varies depending on the room temperature and humidity - mine took about an hour and a half.
6. When cool, lift them off the paper, scoop out the top part and fill with whipped cream or jelly. They can be presented singly or two can be joined together with melted candy or icing, like "kisses."
Garnishing the meringues with whipped cream creates treats that are an angelic white color, like delicate clouds, but they can also be dressed up. Whitehead recommended filling them with "bright jellies of different colors and ice creams."
In any case, they are definitely worth a try. The sweet cream contrasts the crispy meringue beautifully, resulting in a delicious taste and texture combination. All my taste testers raved about them. And, they paired nicely with Champagne Frappe a la Glacé - a signature Parkinson drink also served during the Pastry Course at the Thousand Dollar Dinner.