Besides the recipe ingredients, you’ll need a stand mixer (preferably with a whisk attachment), 1 or 2 disposable pastry bags (or large self-sealing plastic food bags, cutting off one bottom corner), the wing template (see photo), parchment paper, a rolling pin and a 1-inch round cutter (for the halos).
A word of caution: If you don’t achieve a firm meringue mixture, it’s best to start over. The meringue pieces need to dry in the oven overnight before assembly. Allow at least 30 minutes and up to 1 or 2 hours for the royal icing to set on the assembled angels. The angels can last for 3 to 4 weeks; they will get harder over time.
6 large egg whites
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for assembly
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
Royal icing (see directions below)
Red and blue paste food coloring (such as Wilton brand)
3 yellow gumdrops
Beat the egg whites and lemon juice with an electric mixer on medium speed until the whites form soft peaks. Begin sprinkling on the cup of granulated sugar very gradually, no more than a tablespoon at a time, to form fairly firm peaks. Do not rush this process.
Reduce the mixer speed to low; alternately add tablespoons of the confectioners’ sugar and the cornstarch, increasing the mixer speed as needed so each addition is well incorporated. This will take several minutes and should produce a smooth, glossy meringue that is quite firm and holds a shape well.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Scoop the meringue into a pastry bag that has about a 1/4-inch opening (no tip is needed). Don’t fill the bag more than half full.
To make the angels’ wings, place the template under the parchment paper. Pipe out the meringue to trace and fill in the outline. Make extra wings, in case of breakage.
To make the heads, hold the pastry bag perpendicular to the baking sheet and pipe out 3 balls as round as possible (they will flatten on the bottom), spacing them at least an inch apart.
Cut a slightly larger opening (1/2 inch to 3/4 inch) at the end of the same pastry bag. For the angels’ bodies, hold the pastry bag just above the sheet; squeeze slowly until the base is as large as you want it, then start raising the bag slowly to create a rounded, cone-shaped body. The base might be 21/2 to 3 inches wide, with the bodies about 31/2 inches tall.
Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meringues are cream-colored and crisp on top when tapped. They may develop cracks; that is OK. Turn off the oven; let the meringues cool and dry out overnight on the baking sheets.
To assemble, working with one angel at a time, use firm royal icing to attach the wings to the body.
Dab a drop or two of the red and the blue food coloring on a plate. Use a clean, thin brush or the blunt end of a toothpick to paint mouths and eyes on the heads.
Spread the remaining tablespoon of granulated sugar on a small plate. Cut a horizontal slice from the bottom of a gumdrop, dip it into the sugar and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a larger, thin circle. Dip it in the sugar again and cut out a round circle for the halo.
Pipe a large bead of royal icing on top of the body to attach the head. Then gently pipe a small bead on the head to attach the halo. Repeat assembly for the remaining angels. Makes 3 or 4 angels.
Royal icing: Whisk 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pasteurized egg white (from 1 large egg) in a medium bowl together with 1/4 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extracts and 1 cup confectioners’ sugar. Add water in very small increments to create a thick, sticky glue.
Note: Ingredients are too varied for nutritional analysis.
Source: Adapted by The Washington Post from Josh Short, pastry chef at the Hay-Adams Hotel.