Please excuse this absurdly short and sweet little rant on meringues. I have two other far more pressing topics to share, a cheeky weekend in Bordeaux and my fathers very important 70th birthday party, but somehow this has taken precedence, and these magic little white swans won the blog bid this week!
Does anyone else ever seem to collect egg whites? I mean not deliberately, but in a vain attempt not to throw food away, I always have, and probably always will save the whites from eggs, convinced that they will find a home at some stage. Egg yolks always seem to be in higher demand than their neighbouring whites, and hence lingering at the back of our fridge there is always a somewhat forgotten pot of whites! This throws me into a dilemma as the only really sensible use for them is meringues, and strangely I am not mad about them, I put that down to over indulgence as a child. Needless to say the ‘little people’ don’t share my ambivalence, they adore them, so just every now and again a batch gets made.
I find making meringues incredibly therapeutic, I may not eat them but I do love making them. You start off with a strange and slimy, gelatinous body (the egg white), and through a combination of beating air in vigorously and the addition of white sugar, end up with a fabulous, glossy, brilliant white mass, that after baking, gets transformed into something quite magical, brittle on the outside, ‘marshmallow-like’ inside. It is culinary alchemy. I mean who on earth imagined that the humble egg white could be elevated to such heights and acquire such an elegant and pretty status? Surprisingly, and I think, rather pleasingly, the first record of a meringue recipe was noted down by ‘Lady Elinor Fettiplace’, in a manuscript book dated 1604, writing from Appleton Manor, Oxford, who ever said the English can’t cook?
Hoorah, so meringues were invented on our green and pleasant land, and Lady Elinor was a culinary magician. Meringues after all are fat-free! generations of pudding lovers have a lot to thank her for. Wikipedia quotes, ‘The principal nutritional components are high-quality protein from the egg whites and simple carbohydrates from the refined sugar.’ Nothing criminal there, it is merely what one chooses to have with them that raises the naughty stakes! The ‘little people’ are not too discerning, so a handful of raspberries and blueberries make a cracking pudding – no cream for them, no need.
‘Bingo’, a home for lone egg whites and a pudding for ‘little and big’ people. Meringues in my eyes are the versatile, easy and cheap dessert option. What is more, meringues keep, stored in an air tight container, they can be kept for several days, and just when their quality is beginning to weaken, can be crumbled into homemade ice cream or into an Eton Mess. On my frantic friday bake-off, I made a tray of virgin white meringues and then with the left over mix, crushed in some raspberries from the garden – the result was delicious with the slightly sour raspberry biting through the sweetness of the meringue – well worth a go if you are feeling adventurous! Once you have mastered making these delectable morsels they will become integral to your cooking repertoire because they are just so easy, and so very useful to have loitering around, more useful than in a pot in the back of the fridge!!
Meringues made easy ………..
2 egg whites
125 gms of white caster sugar
There are 2 key rules when making meringues- the cleanliness of the mixing bowl – it is so important that this is anything but plastic, copper is ideal but unlikely, aluminium and glass are perfect, and secondly that you cook at a very low temperature – I suggest 110 or ideally the bottom left oven of an aga – the point being to dry the meringues out and extract the moisture – !
Turn the oven on to 110c.
1. Put the egg whites into the extremely clean metal bowl of an electric mixer, something like a kenwood or kitchen aid, or you could use handbeaters, and beat on full power until quadrupled (and more) in size and volume. When you pull the beaters out the peaks of the beaten egg whites should be firm not droopy! This can take 5 minutes or more. If there is any yolk in the egg whites they will not beat up – it has to be 100% egg white!
2. Put the beaters back in and slowly pour in the sugar in 2 stages, keep the beating going at full pelt and after a minute or 2 the meringue will take on a very glossy sheen. Leave the beaters on beating furiously while you prepare the tins. Line a couple of baking tins with baking paper and with a teaspoon or alternatively a piping bag drop / pipe dollops of the mix on to the paper. Place in the oven and leave to dry out for at least 1 hour. I literally do an over sized teaspoon for the ‘little people’ – which is perfect toddler size for pudding. The meringues are ready when they lift easily from the baking paper.
This recipe can be doubled, tripled to make more.
The quantity above is designed for using up left over egg whites – it makes about 15 ‘toddler’ size meringues – or meringue kisses as I call them, or 4 good-sized adult meringues with some extra small ones as well.