Out of all the tempting things in Julia Usher’s yummy new book, “Cookie Swap,” these meringue ghosts may be the most adorable — and the easiest. They’re filled with date nut balls but you can skip that step (actually steps #2 and 3) entirely and just pipe the meringue directly onto a baking sheet
Makes about 2 dozen
Date Nut Filling
1 cup dried pitted dates, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons Grand Marnier
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons pecans, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sifted superfine sugar
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
Miniature chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 225. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Mix the dates, orange zest, juice, peel and liqueur in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cook another 3 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped pecans and spices. Cool.
3. Form ¾-inch balls and arrange them evenly around the perimeter of the baking sheets.
4. Make the meringue by beating the egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed until frothy, then turn the mixer to medium and gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Turn the mixer to high and beat until the whites are very stiff and glossy, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the surface and beat 30 seconds more.
5. Fit a pastry bag with a large (¾-inch) star-tip and fill with the meringue. Hold the bag perpendicular to each date ball, with the tip touching the top, and press, so the meringue covers as much of the ball as possible. Slowly lift the pastry bag straight up, still applying pressure, to make a ghost. Then pull up quickly, without pressure, to create a peak.
6. Place two mini chocolate chips on each cookie to form eyes. Press the chips in with the tip of a paring knife. Bake until bone-dry to the touch, but not discolored, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the ambient humidity. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
— Julia Usher, “Cookie Swap” (Gibbs Smith 2009)