A co-worker of mine came in to work two weeks ago with mini-egg brownies - basically box-mix brownies with Cadbury Mini Eggs crushed and sprinkled on top. That got me thinking - I love Mini Eggs and I have never used them in baking, I usually just mash them into my gaping maw, one handful after another. I set my mind to making better use of them.
So what could I use them for? Fudgier, homemade brownies with smashed Mini Eggs swirled throughout? Giant chocolate chip cookies with Mini Eggs in place of chips? Mini Egg quiche? Nope, my mind went right to where it always goes when I think of baking - meringues.
Meringues are one of the first things I learned to make after I watched this episode of the Galloping Gourmet (unfortunately, there's no video on that link). I was about 13, and I didn't use any booze OR an electric mixer, but I made them, and they were fantastic. Flash forward about 10-15 years, and I didn't know what to get my father for Christmas. We used to pick up big-ass meringues at John Baird bakery at Eglinton Square (Now called Mrs. Bridges) around the holidays, so why not make a batch for him? They were a hit, and it's since become a bit of a Christmas tradition. I'm rambling.
I decided to make meringue nests, with Mini Eggs as... well... miniature eggs. Plain white meringues would be nice, but they would look too much like clouds, which was not the effect I was going for. I needed to make them brown, and what better way to tint the meringue and inject some extra flavour than by adding some cocoa powder? There is no better way. Well there is, by getting a kitchen torch and singeing the ridges of the meringue, but I don't have a kitchen torch, so NO. There is no better way.
Separate your eggs and put them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. This is a perfect time to try the water bottle trick. TRY IT. It's magic.
Let the egg whites sit and get closer to room temperature - the warmer they are, the more they increase in volume when whipped.
If you don't have a stand mixer, use any glass or metal bowl and a hand mixer. Make sure there is no trace of fat in the bowl - fat and meringues don't mix. Don't use a plastic bowl because the surface may be holding on to fat residue you can't see, and your efforts will be for naught. Look at those eggs you wasted by using a plastic bowl. For shame.
While they are sitting, assemble the rest of your ingredients (save for the Mini Eggs and icing) and preheat your oven to 200º. If you're like me and you never have superfine sugar, this is a perfect time to make some. Get out your trusty food processor, throw in some plain ol' white sugar and let it go for a ride. A few minutes later - voila - superfine sugar.
Your eggs should be ready to go, so start your mixer (hand or stand), gradually increasing the speed to medium-high. When soft peaks start to form, add your cream of tartar - this helps stabilize the meringue.
Once the cream of tartar has been incorporated, add your sugar a quarter-cup at a time. Keep mixing until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks begin to form (the meringue should stand upright without too much droop) The sugar should have almost completely dissolved at this point. The best way to check this is to take a pinch between your forefinger and thumb and rub them together. The less gritty, the better.
Stir in the vanilla, then the cocoa. I sifted the cocoa through a fine sieve to help incorporate it into the meringue, and I suggest you do the same. You don't want a clump of cocoa powder hiding out when you're trying to pipe these bad boys.
Makes 12 nests
- 3 egg whites
- 3/4 cups superfine sugar
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 36 Cadbury Mini Eggs (plus extra for snacking)
- Cookie icing (any kind that will set and harden)
- Stand mixer (or hand mixer & glass or metal bowl)
- Piping bag (or big freezer bag) w/star tip
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
Once fully incorporated, you're ready to pipe. Fill your piping bag fitted with a large star tip with the meringue and have ready a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can anchor the paper to the sheet with a dab of meringue, but it's optional. (Personally, I think if you're doing things properly, you don't need to anchor your parchment paper.)
Pipe three-inch-ish rounds, starting from the centre, working out. Once you reach the edge, pipe a second layer, creating the walls of your 'nest'. Space them about an inch apart - you should be able to fit about 12 on a decent sized baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the center of your oven for 45 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet 180º and bake for another 45 minutes. After that time has elapsed, turn the oven off (leaving the oven door closed) and go to bed. (Yeah, I probably should have prefaced this recipe with this information. I apologize if I just screwed your dinner plans by occupying your oven for the next, oh, 9 hours or so. Just put that roast back in the fridge and order a pizza.) In the morning you will have perfectly pale crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside meringues.
Now, get your Mini Eggs and cookie icing. Dab a drop of icing in the well of your nest and drop an egg on it. Repeat until all of your nests are full.
Once the icing is set, you're done! Now go hand them out to your friends and family like the Easter Bunny we all know you are.