Based on a popular French pastry called a macaron, these tiny treats consist of two meringue cookies joined by a sweet filling. Here, we present a classic combination (an almond cookie with buttercream) as well as how-to's for two simple variations (chocolate and sugarplum) that are a tasty tribute to the season. No matter what flavor they choose to make, kids will learn a fun and useful baking basic: how to transform egg whites into a light, fluffy meringue.
These seasonally inspired meringue treats make thoughtful presents. Wrap a stack in a piece of colored cellophane for a small party favor or pack a whole batch in a box for a more substantial gift.
For sugarplum cookies, when the sugar and egg white mixture is almost stiff, add a teaspoon of almond extract, then if desired, 5 drops each of red and blue food coloring (Step 3). Replace the buttercream with plum jam (Step 8), spreading the jam with a spatula or butter knife. You'll need 1/2 cup per batch.
For chocolate cookies, add 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder to the almond mixture (Step 3). When the meringue cookies have dried, lightly sprinkle them with more unsweetened cocoa powder (Step 6). Replace the buttercream with melted chocolate chips (Step 8), spreading the chocolate with a spatula or butter knife. You'll need 1 cup of chocolate chips per batch (follow package directions for melting).
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set them aside. Tip: Use a dab of water, oil, or butter to secure the paper to the pans.
Over a small bowl, separate the egg whites from the yolks. If any yolk slips into the bowl, scoop it out with an eggshell half so that the whites will beat properly. Discard the yolks. Let the whites sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Sift together the almond flour or meal and the confectioners' sugar into a medium-size mixing bowl. In a second bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat together the egg whites and the salt until foamy, about 2 minutes. Increase the mixer's speed to high and gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 1 minute more.
To make the meringue, gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture with a rubber spatula, being careful not to deflate them.
Place some of the meringue in a pastry bag fit with a 3/8-inch round tip, or a ziplock plastic bag with a corner snipped. Beginning at the corner of one cookie sheet and holding the bag perpendicular to the sheet's surface, squeeze out enough meringue to make a 1-inch disk. Pull the tip away from the disk with a quick circular motion to avoid making a peak (a misshapen cookie can be gently molded with a wet finger). Continue piping the cookies, spacing them 2 inches apart and refilling the bag as needed, until all the meringue is used.
Gently tap the bottom of each cookie sheet against the countertop to further flatten the cookies (they should be about 1/4-inch thick), then allow them to sit at room temperature until dry to the touch, about 1 1/2 hours.
Heat the oven to 325˚. Bake the cookies, one pan at a time, in the center of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow each pan to cool on a wire rack.
Whisk together all the ingredients for the buttercream in a medium-size bowl until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Fill a clean pastry bag with the buttercream (alternately, use a snipped plastic bag, or a butter knife or spatula).
Pair similar-size cookies. Pipe or spread a dollop of the buttercream on the flat side of one from each pair, then sandwich the pairs together. Makes about 20 treats.
One meringue treat with buttercream filling: Calories 77 ● Total Fat 1.4 g ● Saturated Fat 0.4 g ● Cholesterol 2 mg ● Sodium 26 mg ● Total Carbohydrate 14 g ● Fiber 0 g ● Sugars 13 g ● Protein 2 g