1. Combine the milk with the vanilla bean and one-fourth cup sugar. Slowly heat to simmering.
2. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff. Continue beating, adding the remaining two cups of sugar gradually, until the meringue holds its shape.
3. Using two spoons, drop egg-shaped balls of meringue on the simmering milk and simmer until they are firm, turning once. Carefully remove and set on a clean towel. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve the milk. If a bean is not used, add the extract.