Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint Meringues

Ooooh, you guys! I really hope I'm getting to you in time. Like before you get all set in your holiday baking plans. Because let me tell you what. These peppermint meringues? With their minty crunch, melting sweetness and slick of bittersweet chocolate? They need to be all up in your holiday cookie tins. I mean, just look at them in their jaunty striped suits. They will delight any recipient and call to you from the countertop. So says the person who's had meringue crumbs all down her shirt for three days straight.

I can't think of too many phrases more lovely than "Christmas confections", can you? Well, I suppose there's also "French meringue", which I also have a thing for. And "spatula", but that's neither here nor there. But about the French meringue. It's my favorite kind to make and eat. Oh, of course I love a pillowy, soft meringue atop a pie or the in-between kind that's baked crisp on the outside with a marshmallow-y interior, like with a heavenly pavlova. But I'm totally enamored with the kind of hard-throughout meringue cookie that has you cronch-cronch-ing while it simulatneously melts in your mouth. And I'll tell you what else--it's dang hard to find a good, reliable recipe for that sort of thing.

This recipe is a far cry from a hard-core, classic French meringue (granulated and confectioners' sugar? Flour? Mon dieu!), but the technique is every bit as simple. The little trick that makes these baked meringues so featherweight and addictively melt-in-your-mouth is the folding in of the confectioners' sugar and a touch of flour, after the bulk of the superfine granulated sugar has been whipped into the egg whites. And can I just say that when I grind granulated sugar in my coffee grinder to make superfine sugar and then pour it into a plastic bag to store it, I always get the biggest laugh out of how questionable the whole thing looks?

If you wondered if I was a square before, well, I guess I cleared that one up for you.

But in addition to being a total square, I am also quite crafty, and after deciding to make these meringues peppermint, opted to dress them up even more by painting long stripes of red food coloring up the sides of a piping bag before filling it. As you pipe out the meringue, you'll get a sweet little pattern on each cookie. Super stylish and cute! Unlike me with all these crazy meringue crumbs on my shirt.

Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint Meringues

To make superfine sugar, take regular granulated sugar for a spin in a clean coffee grinder or food processor fitted with the steel blade.

When you add the peppermint extract, the minty fragrance and flavor may seem a bit overpowering, but it will be tempered by adding the remaining sugar mixture, and some of its minty power will bake off during the long baking time, too.

Gel food coloring is available at any good baking supply store and many craft stores. It's much thicker and much more intense in color than the liquid food coloring sold in supermarkets.You can forgo the jazzy striping altogether and just beat in a touch of festive food coloring with the extracts if you prefer.

Makes about 4-5 dozen, depending on size

4 large egg whites (about 4 ounces), at room temperature 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar Pinch of salt 3/4 cup superfine sugar (see note) 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour Red gel food coloring 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

Position the oven rack to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 250 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Sift together 2 tablespoons of the superfine sugar, the confectioners' sugar, and the flour into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with the whip attachment, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Whip first on medium speed, gradually increasing the speed to high, until the egg whites reach soft peaks. Gradually rain in the remaining superfine sugar. Continue to whip until the meringue is glossy and holds a very stiff peak. Beat in the vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. With a large spatula, gently and carefully fold in the remaining sugar mixture by hand in three additions, taking care not to deflate the egg whites.

On the inside of a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, use a long, thin paint brush to paint four or five long stripes of food coloring up the sides of the bag. Carefully transfer the meringue to the piping bag, aiming for the center of the bag as much as possible to avoid smudging the stripes. Pipe out the meringue into cookies about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the prepared baking sheets.

Place both sheets into the oven at once, and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 200 degrees. Bake until the cookies are completely firm and dry, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate chips on a double boiler or in the microwave on high power in 30 second intervals until smooth, stirring after each interval. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the melted chocolate and place them on parchment-lined baking sheets. when the chocolate has cooled and set (the refrigerator can speed up this process considerably), remove the cookies from the sheets and store in airtight containers at cool room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Cookies, CandyShauna Sever