Sunday, 27 October 2013

Meringues

I love the decadent frivolity of meringues!

Meringues have a reputation of being difficult to make, but provided you follow a few simple rules, they are actually incredibly easy to make.
 
So what should the perfect meringue taste like? It should be crisp on the outside, but still soft and slightly chewy in the centre.

The recipe that follows is made with Italian meringue where the egg whites and sugar are gently heated in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water until the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, the egg whites are whisked with a hand-held electric mixer for about ten minutes until the meringue is fluffy and holds its own shape and has cooled down. This is a very stable meringue when made and creates the most delicious meringues. The pavlova that I make and which is one of my fail-safe desserts is not made using Italian meringue, but employs the more traditional method of whisking the egg whites to the soft peak stage and then gradually whisking in the sugar - I will post that recipe separately.

I like to pile the mixture onto baking parchment lined baking trays in large blobs to create pretty looking clouds of sugary delight! A few flaked almonds sprinkled on top prior to baking do not go amiss and give a very pleasant nutty crunch.

Once the basic meringue mixture is made, you can adapt the recipe slightly to ring the changes. For example you can fold in some finely chopped nuts, or add a few drops of food colouring to make coloured meringues. Imagine a mountain of meringues casually piled up on a plate in a range of pastel colours… Beautiful!

Finally, I should mention that I have found that weighing the egg whites creates more accurate results, so that’s what I do here, but 115g egg whites equates to roughly three large egg whites.

Rule 1: All your equipment must be scrupulously clean. If there is even a speck of grease, your egg whites will be much more difficult to whisk. Some cooks recommend rubbing the mixing bowl with the cut side of half a lemon to get rid of any grease. I’ll be honest, I don’t do this, but if you are in at all anxious that there is some grease present, do it.

Rule 2: Use a large metal or glass mixing bowl to whisk the egg whites as plastic bowls are far more inclined to retain fat or grease. Using a large bowl, allows more space for air to be whisked into the egg whites. Again I will stress, make sure that the bowl is spotlessly clean.

Rule 3: When separating the eggs, make sure that is absolutely no trace of egg yolk in the egg whites. I always separate the egg whites individually into a small bowl first of all and when reassured that there is no hint of egg yolk, I then empty it into the mixing bowl. The reason that I do this is because, if some egg yolk gets into the mixture, I only have to discard one, rather than the whole batch.

Rule 4: Use caster sugar for the meringues. Granulated sugar does not dissolve correctly in the foamy egg whites when whisked and creates a grainy meringue. Some recipes use icing sugar, but I think that it creates a powdery meringue.

Rule 5: Bake the meringues in a pre-heated oven at a low temperature for the specified time. At the end of the cooking time, turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely in the oven. For this reason, when making meringues or pavlova, I usually make them the night before they are needed and let them cool in the switched off oven overnight.

Ingredients:

115g egg whites
225g caster sugar
A handful of flaked almonds
    

Method:

1.                  Pre-heat the oven to 110C/Fan 100C/Gas 1/4.
2.                  Put the egg whites and caster sugar in a large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water directly. Stir with a clean spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are slightly warm to the touch. This will take about ten minutes.
3.                  Using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk the egg white and sugar mixture for about ten minutes until a stiff meringue has formed and the mixture has cooled. The meringue should be quite stiff and hold its own shape without collapsing.
4.                  Using a large tablespoon, pile large blobs of meringue onto parchment lined baking trays. Scatter a few flaked almonds over the top of each meringue.
5.                  Place the trays into the pre-heated oven for 1 hour and then switch off the oven and let them cool completely.


Makes 8-10 meringues.