Walking around Venice, peering into the windows of the unassuming pastry shops that dot the calles, it’s commonplace to see giant meringues, beckoning in pretty pastel colors. Very few times I resisted the temptation, assuaging my guilt by thinking that meringues contain no fat (never mind they are sugar monsters).
Meringues are a perfect medium for a variety of desserts, being so light and sweet. They pair perfectly with chocolate and with Summer fruit. My first forays with meringues were compliments of Marks & Spencer: on Summer week-ends in London, sofagirl would treat us to crumbled meringues, strawberries and cream. In fact, I believe she still does that in Cape Town, meringues now compliments of Woolworth’s.
A couple of week-ends ago, hosting a lunch for some girlfriends, I settled on a Pavlova variation. Instead of two large disks of meringue, I opted for smaller ones to make the dessert easier to eat and to serve.
Making meringues is deceptively easy. Quite a few things can go wrong, both in the whipping and the baking but, following a few essential tips will ensure the results will be sparkling white, airy and light.
TIPS FOR A PERFECT MERINGUE
- 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;
- Ditto for the sugar.
- 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.
1 Cup of egg whites
2 Cups of white sugar + 2 T for the strawberries
1/2 ts Cream of Tartar
1 pint of strawberries, hulled, quartered and left to macerate with 2 T of sugar
2 C heavy cream, whipped with less than a quarter cup of powder sugar
- 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 1/2 ts of cream of tartar and keep on whipping on high until the meringue reaches stiff peask. And what the hell does that mean? Recipes always talk about glossy, soft peaks, stiff ones…Well, in this case, if you were to take the whisk out of the bowl and shake 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.
- Place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip or simply use a spoon for a more free form cookie. Pipe it in 3” circles 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 the meringues to further dry and cool completely with the oven door slightly open.
- Assemble the Pavlova by arranging half of the meringues on a plate. Top with 3/4 of the whipped cream. Top with the macerated strawberries and the rest of the whipped cream.
- Finish by arranging the rest of the meringues around the plate, barely covering the cream. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
- You can make the meringues a few days before and keep them in an air-tight container but assemble the dessert no more than 3 hours before serving it.