No Mess Desserts

After a long snowy and rainy winter, my pasty skin is aching for some sun (yes, yes, with SPF of course.) As usual, I start the summer day dreaming about the season's cool white dresses to show off my inevitable tan, but, as usual, I worry about the practicality of buying one. Here are a few I've been eyeing:

Temperley London Mini Beatriz Dress,, Shoshanna Beaded One Shoulder Dress, and Haute Hippie Belted Ruffle Silk Dress,

One of my obvious hold-ups for buying a white dress is that I do a lot of summer entertaining, and if I'm going from kitchen to cocktails, I don't want to worry about having a big ole chocolate stain on my chest. So I was brainstorming some ideas for no-mess summer desserts, and my sister suggested one of her favorite treats -- meringues.

Meringues are the perfect dessert for a summer soiree, because they can be made in advance in a variety of fun summer flavors and can be taken anywhere, from a backyard barbecue to a rooftop cocktail party. Best of all, they're light enough that you can eat a few and not worry about how you look in your pretty new dress!

Here's the basic recipe (makes about 30):
2 oz. egg whites (either separated from two large eggs or pre-separated pasteurized whites)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp cream of tartar (to help stabilize egg whites, if you don't have it, substitute lemon juice)
pinch of salt
½ cup superfine granulated sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.

2. Beat the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar and salt with the whisk attachment on a standing mixer (or with a hand held electric mixer) on medium-high speed until the whites begin to form soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar on low speed, then return to high speed until the meringue forms glossy, stiff peaks. Be careful not to over mix it.

3. Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a large round or star tip. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, and dab the corners of the parchment paper on the underside with a bit of meringue, so the paper sticks to the pan while they're cooking.

4. Pipe the meringue into rounds or stars about 1 inch wide and 1 inch tall, with about ½ inch space in between each. Note that the size that you pipe them will be the finished size, so feel free to pipe them slightly smaller or larger, as desired.

5. Bake the meringues for about 90 minutes, until they are crisp and firm, then turn off the oven and allow them to cool slowly in the oven. (This will help dry them out further, rather than cooling in your kitchen, which tends to be more humid.)

6. Plate and serve!

Some great flavor variations for summer:

Mojito -- substitute vanilla extract with 1 tsp lime juice and 1 tsp white rum. Fold about 3 tsp of thinly sliced mint leaves into meringue before transferring it to the pastry bag.

Raspberry -- substitute vanilla extract with 2 tsp strained, unsweetened raspberry puree.

Espresso Chocolate Chip -- substitute vanilla extract with 3 tsp finely ground espresso powder. Fold about 2 tbsp mini chocolate chips into meringue before transferring it to the pastry bag.

© 2011 Rachel Thebault, author of Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion.