In my imagination, meringues will always be linked to Sunday mornings: my small hand holding my dad’s, entering our favourite patisserie, the aroma of which I can still evoke in my nostrils, to choose a dozen pastries to take home as the crowning jewel to my mother’s Sunday lunch
With the nose pressed against the glass case, I would be left to choose the delicacies that would go on the carefully wrapped tray: always some eclairs, cream and chocolate, some fruit tarts, a slice of Neapolitan sour cherry pie and, hands down my favourite, two giant meringues, filled with perfectly whipped cream.
Once home, I would mill around the kitchen, impatiently waiting for lunch, often swiping my little finger around the meringue to catch the extra cream that I would lick against my mother’s protestations. I have always loved the ethereal consistency of meringues, biting into their chalky crunchiness and waiting for the sugar to dissolve in my mouth.
My (poor) excuse for devouring meringues is that they are fat free. Despite maligning sugar (most recently in one of my food posts), I will always succumb to the allure of a perfect meringue.
For about 24 large meringues, you will need: 1 cup of egg whites, 2 cups of fine white sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar. I would not advise doing this by hand as it will take a long time (and a lot of elbow grease) to reach the desired consistency, hence you will also need an electric mixer.
- Using room temperature egg whites is not strictly necessary but it helps and, above all, the eggs need to be very fresh. You can tell an older egg when the white is very clear and thin. Ditto for the sugar. No foreign bits and pieces in it
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and start whipping on medium speed. In a steady stream add the sugar. Add a 1/4 ts of cream of tartar and keep on whipping on high until the meringue reaches stiff peak – it means that if you were to take the whisk out of the bowl and you shook it vigorously, the meringue will not detach easily. It should look glossy and compact – if it is dull or has holes in it, you overwhipped. Make sure the bowl you are using to whip the egg whites and sugar in is perfectly clean as any fat residue will prevent the expansion of the albumen.
- Next, place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip or simply use a spoon for a more free form cookie. Pipe it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or silpat) and immediately put in a 210 to 250F oven. If your oven is electric, leave the door slightly ajar during the baking process. Bake for approx 90 minutes. You will know they are done when, sliding a spatula or a knife underneath the meringues, they will detach easily.
- Switch the oven off and leave them to further dry, with the oven door slightly open. In an air tight container, they will keep for a couple of weeks, provided they are not exposed to any humidity. The applications are endless. Dip the tops in dark chocolate for a fat-free cookie. Use them for a Pavlova, an Eton Mess, as a base for fruit desserts, sprinkled on puddings….