Meyer Lemon Meringue Kisses

Oh, 2012. Here you are, all shiny and new and full of promise. Unlike the yoga pants I've been wearing nonstop since December 27th, which are dull and old and full of pills. But you know what, 2012? You're encouraging me to move forward. Put on some pants that have an actual waistband, no matter how excruciating  that might be. It's a brand new year and I'm feeling terrific about the whole thing.

To celebrate, I thought I'd throw a little extra something into my favorite meringue cookie recipe, which tends to appear about this time every year, when rich, heavy desserts have become too much, but I'm not so crazy as to forgo sweets altogether. And to up the ante, I'm adding a bright punch of flavor with sweet, fragrant Meyer lemons, which are the kind of glorious thing that will make even the laziest folk rise from their post-holiday stupor.

The trick that makes these meringues a little different is using an Italian meringue technique instead of the French sort you might normally use for meringue cookies, wherein you whip some egg whites and rain in granulated sugar, beat until the whole thing is stiff and that's that. With Italian meringue, you take the extra step of boiling up a little sugar syrup on the stove, and then drizzle it into the egg whites instead. It's fussier, yes, but what you get with Italian meringue is not only a more stable meringue (and a much more finely textured one at that). but also the opportunity to infuse different liquid flavors into the mix that can't be incorporated into a French meringue, like swapping out the water in the sugar syrup with something delicious like Meyer lemon juice.

What you get in the end is the most perfect little bite, crisp and addictive with a lovely balance of sweetness and a spark of tart citrus. After you cronch-cronch it for a bit, the whole thing melts on your tongue, leaving just the essence of Meyer lemon behind. It's like perfume, for you mouth. But a lot more pleasant that than sounds. I promise. Plus, hello! Low-fat. Dreamy!

Meyer Lemon Meringue Kisses

Makes about 5 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies

A few tips for meringue: Make sure your egg whites are room temperature before you begin, and that whites indeed hold a soft shape before adding in the sugar syrup--you'll get much more volume and structure. 

And of course you can use regular lemons here if you can't find Meyer lemons--the special breed of lemon just adds a bit more jazziness when they're in season. 

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 cup plus one teaspoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons grated Meyer lemon zest

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 200 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the egg whites, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until opaque white and the egg whites hold a soft shape, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring gently to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Clip a candy thermometer onto the pan and boil until the syrup reaches 238 to 240 degrees. Immediately remove the pan from the heat.

With the mixer running on medium-high speed, drizzle just about a tablespoon or so of the syrup into the whites. Once that's incorporated, repeat two or three times (the idea is to warm the whites slowly with the hot sugar syrup, avoiding scrambled egg whites). Pour the rest of the syrup into the whipping whites in a thin stream, until all the syrup has been added. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy and the bowl is cool to the touch all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Load the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a large round or star tip. Pipe kisses about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between each one. Bake 2 1/2 hours, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back every 30 minutes or so. Turn off the oven, crack the door, and let the meringues cool in the turned off oven completely, about 1 hour more, until dry and crisp. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Cookies, MeringueShauna Sever