Warm up the house with cookie baking

Pretty little meringue cookies, in various pastel colors, make a charming gift on special occasions.
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Sidelined by the cold temps, I have been inside reading and making cookies.

In truth, I've also been putting away holiday decorations and sorting through some family items too. But by the end of the day, I am in the kitchen, where I like being the most.

Cleaning out my purse, I found a recipe for meringue cookies I'd copied down while in the waiting room at a doctor's office. I had tried it a year ago, but they hadn't turned out quite like the ones I like buying at Trader Joe's.

We have jokingly called these Styrofoam cookies because they are lightweight and crunch when bitten into. They happen to be one of granddaughter Kylie's favorites.

Last winter when my farmer son's egg supply was filling my garage fridge, I was looking for ways to use the excess. Each recipe calls for four egg whites, so I thought this might be the ticket for using up a few dozen.

But life got in the way and fortunately, the eggs found homes elsewhere.

But with the current cold winter weather making staying home the best choice, I made plans to make these cookies more than once, each time giving them a different flavor. I also got out the food coloring I usually only use at Easter time for coloring eggs.

Pink would be flavored with apple cinnamon extract, yellow would be lemon, etc. 

But the first batch I made white with vanilla flavoring. The trick, I realized, was drying them longer in the oven. Those I made before had had a bit of a gummy consistency in the middle, so this time I checked one after the recipe's oven drying time of two hours, then left the rest in there longer.

When my husband tried one from the first batch, he said, “You nailed it.”

Oatmeal cookies are also a favorite of mine and I have a recipe I've used countless times during the winter months. When summer comes, I don't have time to bake cookies, I'd rather be gardening outside and canning in my kitchen.

I have a collection of metal tins, which I use for storing cookies, usually at Christmas time. Years ago, I used them for storing cookies made for my kids.

In my collection I had two tins I'd ordered from Quaker Oats, which also had classic rolled oats cookie recipes printed on them. A year ago, when I'd had my Christmas give-away of items I no longer needed, I put these tins in the display of choices.

But no one took them. This year, when putting the leftover items away, I looked at the tins and thought, hey, I could use these at the cabin.

Once there, I looked at the recipe on each tin and decided to bake oatmeal cookies. The two oatmeal cookie recipes were similar, but I ended up choosing the one needing less butter (as that was exactly how much was left in the fridge.)

Then, I brought the cookies I made home in one of the tins. Today, I used the other recipe on this Quaker tin and realized it was better, but the temperature was too high and I needed to add a bit of milk to get the cookies to spread out more.

For oatmeal cookies, I prefer them having a soft center. But the same recipe can be made crisper by baking them in the oven longer.

My mom baked far more cookies than I ever have. She always had a supply she'd baked in her kitchen. When I helped her bake, she'd say we needed to bake a trial one first to make sure the batter had the right consistency.

If the trial cookie spread out too much, we added a little flour to the dough. If the cookie was too thick, we added a little milk.

Tonight, after discovering my batter was too heavy, I added some milk, but I also realized this particular recipe needed a little milk. One thing I really liked about this classic oatmeal cookie recipe was how it used the regular rolled oats and not the “quick oats” version.

My husband has been even farther north during this really, really cold time. He and his grandson, Willy, are at the cabin working together on the remodel project. When he gets home, I am excited to test his assessment of the flavored, colored meringues.

My farmer son has tested the yellow lemon ones and has declared they are “the best.”

I think pink ones will be great for the Valentine gift bags and a selection of pastels will be perfect for Easter.

After Easter, I probably won't have time to make these again until next winter.

They do need some special equipment. Although they can be spooned in dollops onto parchment paper, they are so much prettier when using a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.

Meringue Cookies

4 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup superfine sugar

1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla or other flavoring extract

Optional: food coloring

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 Combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a whipping bowl. Tip: It's really nice to have an egg separator spoon to make this step easier.

 Whip eggs on a medium-low speed with an electric mixer until they have a frothy consistency. Then increase the mixer speed to medium-high for about a minute. Then, continue beating, while adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar at a time, and beating after each addition. Also, occasionally scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat about three minutes or until the mixture is glossy, fluffy, and leaves a peak when the mixer (not running) is lifted up.

 Beat in flavoring and a few drops of food coloring, if desired. Set the pastry bag inside a large jar (example: a half gallon canning jar). Turn down the top of the bag, then spoon the batter into the bag. Shake it occasionally, while spooning, trying to avoid air pockets. Turn top back up and pick up bag. With top edges held together, fold in the top sides, then fold down the top until batter starts coming from the star tip. Squeeze the top gently, then release to create star-shaped cookies in rows on the baking sheet.

 Set in oven and allow to dry for 2.5 hours. Then turn off the heat and allow cookies to cool in the oven. Store in air-tight containers.

Classic Choco Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/4 cups butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 or 4 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups regular oatmeal

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (1-10 ounce package)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine softened butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, vanilla and 3 tablespoons milk. Mix flour, salt and baking soda together. Add gradually to egg mixture. Stir in the rolled oats and chopped nuts. Spoon rounded teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake 12 minutes for a chewy cookie or two minutes longer for a crispy cookie. If initial cookies don't spread enough when baked, mix another tablespoon of milk into the batter. If too runny, mix in a little flour.

Leave baked cookies on the pan for an additional minute after baking, before using a spatula to remove and set them on a cooking rack.

After cooled, store cookies in an airtight container. Makes about three dozen large cookies.