4 large egg whites (120 grams)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (200 grams) superfine or caster sugar (if you don't have superfine sugar simply take 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar and process it for about 30 seconds in a food processor)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Note: You can find candy eyes at cake decorating stores or you can order them online at http://www.candylandcrafts.com/.)
Note: Instead of candy eyes, you can use miniature chocolate chips.
Meringue Ghosts: Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (105 degrees C) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain tip.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Note: The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.
Before placing the meringue ghosts on the cookie sheet, place a little of the meringue on the underside of each corner of the parchment paper. This will prevent the paper from sliding. Transfer the meringue to the pastry bag and, holding the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, pipe, with even pressure, about 2 inch (5 cm) high mounds of meringue. Carefully press two candy eyes, edible silver dragees, or two miniature chocolate chips into each meringue ghost.
Bake the meringues for approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until they are dry and crisp to the touch. Turn off the oven, open the door, and leave the meringues in the oven to finish drying several hours, or even overnight.
The Meringue Ghosts will keep several days at room temperature.
Makes 20-24 Meringue Ghosts
Meringue Ghosts are haphazard mounds of sweetened meringue studded with cute little candy eyes. Although it is obvious that children enjoy the look and taste of these ghosts, I find that adults are not immune to their charms. I love how the outside of the meringue ghosts are so light and crisp that they immediately dissolve on the tongue, while their insides are soft like a marshmallow, and oh so sweet. Serve these at your next Halloween gathering and watch them disappear.
If you look at this recipe and find yourself a little nervous about making a meringue, don't be. Meringue is simply a mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites and superfine (caster) sugar. The trick to making a good meringue is to get the egg whites to reach their maximum volume. This is achieved by first having your mixing bowl and whisk clean and free of grease. Next, you want to have the egg whites at room temperature. It is easier to separate the eggs while they are still cold, and once separated, cover the egg whites and let them come to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). (Cover and refrigerate the egg yolks for another use.) Make sure that there are no little specks of egg yolk in the egg whites as this will prevent the whites from reaching their full volume when beaten. The recipe calls for superfine sugar which dissolves easier in the whites than regular granulated white sugar. Because superfine sugar can be hard to find in grocery stores, just make your own by taking 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar and processing it in your food processor until very fine.
There are a few more things to keep in mind when making these meringue ghosts. The standard ratio when making meringues is 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar for every egg white and this amount of sugar is needed to give the meringue its crispness. Now you want to add the sugar gradually to the egg whites as this ensures that the sugar completely dissolves and does not produce a gritty meringue. Cream of tartar is also used in the whipping of egg whites to stabilize them, helps them to reach maximum volume, and prevents over beating. The meringue is ready when it forms stiff peaks (looks like marshmallow cream) and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.
Once the meringue is made, the next step is to pipe the ghosts. I like to do this with a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1 cm) plain tip. When piping the ghosts, have the bag perpendicular to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet and, using even pressure, pipe about 2 inch (5 cm) high mounds of meringue. You can make the mounds any shape you want. Then carefully press two candy eyes (you can find candy eyes at cake decorating stores or you can order them online at http://www.candylandcrafts.com/) or two miniature chocolate chips or edible silver dragees into each mound and bake the meringue ghosts in a slow oven for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until they are crisp and dry to the touch. The slow oven allows for gradual evaporation of the moisture from the meringues. If you decide to make meringues on a rainy or humid day, you will probably have to bake the meringues longer (could be up to 30 minutes more).