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Caramel Coffee Meringues

['1 1/2 cups sugar', '3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder*', '5 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes', '1/2 cup water', '1 1/2 cups heavy cream', '8 (5- to 6-ounce) ramekins**']

Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 500°F. Lightly oil ramekins.
Stir together 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons espresso powder in a small bowl. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add sugar mixture a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.
Spoon meringue into ramekins, forming gentle swirling peaks in tops. Arrange ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until meringues are slightly puffed and a shade darker, 4 to 5 minutes (meringues will still be very soft). Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 30 minutes, then chill at least 3 hours. (Meringues will deflate slightly and pull away from sides of ramekins.)
Stir together 1/4 cup water and remaining tablespoon espresso powder in a small glass.
Bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and remaining 1/4 cup water to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved and washing down any crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Boil syrup, without stirring, gently swirling pan, until mixture is a deep golden caramel. Remove from heat and carefully pour in espresso mixture (liquid will bubble and steam), then stir until well combined (if necessary, stir over low heat until caramel is dissolved). Transfer syrup to a heatproof bowl and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Just before serving, beat cream with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Drizzle each meringue with 1 tablespoon syrup and top generously with whipped cream.
*Available at specialty foods shops, some supermarkets, and The Baker's Catalogue (800-827-6836;
**Available at some cookware shops and Bridge Kitchenware (800-274-3435 or 212-688-4220).

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