In the original recipe, these were called Meringue Birch Twigs, but we thought that, with Christmas coming up, we’d change the name so you could give these away to those who’ve been naughty. To complete the effect for a couple of parties, we wanted plate them with sweet and savory nuts to stand in for lumps of “coal. ”
The recipe comes from The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and it’s simply an inspired way of baking up meringue cookies to increase the visual interest. To be honest, we’re not sure we could have come up with the idea on our own. Unfortunately, meringue as twigs turned out to be way more trouble that it’s worth; hence, the inclusion of minty stars (which saved the day), on which we’re rating this post.
Your meringue will whip up best with room-temperature egg whites, especially if they’re “old.” Meaning that you separated the eggs a couple of days prior and kept them in the refrigerator in the meantime. As always, the best eggs are from free-range hens. If you don’t have superfine sugar, you can place ordinary granulated in a food processor and whirr it around for a few minutes. That’s what we did. Or you can just use granulated, just be a bit more careful as you add it slowly to the egg whites. The cream of tartar is an acid which will make the whites whip better, and make the meringue more stable. Of course, you don’t have to make peppermint twigs; you can use any flavoring.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 225°F. Line multiple baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. We needed four baking sheets and we still had some meringue left over. So, be prepared.
Beat egg whites. Place the egg whites and the cream of tartar into the scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-low until the whites become foamy, about a minute.
Add sugar. Gradually increase the speed of the mixer while you slowly add the sugar. You need to add the sugar slowly enough that it dissolves into the egg whites, but not so slowly that the whites whip to stiff peaks before you’re done. By the time all the sugar is added, the mixer should be on high. Keep beating until the whites are glossy smooth and hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted.
Add flavor. Add the vanilla and mint extract and beat for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, then beat for another minute to ensure all the sugar is incorporated.
Pipe. Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a 1/4 inch plain tip. If you’re doing this by yourself, it helps to place the bag in a large measuring cup or something similar to hold it upright while you fill. Pipe twigs onto the prepared baking sheets, placing them 3/8 of an inch apart.
Bake. Bake the twigs for 80 minutes (yep, 1 hour 20 minutes) without opening the oven door. Just be patient; you’ll see them eventually.
Dry. Ding! the 80 minutes are up, so turn off the oven — don’t open that oven door — and let the twigs dry for 2 hours. Yes, that does seem like a long time.
Cool. Remove the sheets from the oven and let cool completely. You can try a misshapen twig if you wish. Now, to be honest, this is where we gave up. These twigs didn’t taste all that minty, they were too much trouble to remove (most broke), plus they got soggy overnight. We immediately switched to making minty stars for the second batch.
Decorate. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and melt using your favorite method. For this amount of chocolate, we microwaved it at 50% power in thirty second increments, stirring with a spatula in between. Once melted and smooth, transfer to a disposable piping bag (or seal-able freezer bag) with a small hole cut in the tip (or corner). Drizzle the chocolate over the twigs in a crosswise fashion so the twigs will look as if they’re covered in birch bark.
Cool. Let the chocolate cool completely, then carefully remove the twigs and transfer to an air tight container.
Well, the twigs were too much trouble for what they were worth. They didn’t taste minty, they broke almost every time we tried to get them off the parchment (silicone baking mats were even worse), and they turned soggy overnight — and we live in southern Arizona. We’ll probably never try making the twigs again, so 1 star. The minty stars, on the other, hand were loaded with mint flavor, and, with the broad base, they popped right off the parchment; even sitting overnight didn’t result in stickiness. Make minty stars; they rate five stars.