Method to the Madness
I will wager that at some point in your life you will have at least half a dozen egg whites at your disposal. It will sneak up on you, like if you decide to make home-made custard and you forget you only need the yolks, or mayonnaise. In my case, it was aioli that was the culprit. That damn aioli was the bane of my life for the half an hour it took to blend and thicken, it was not my friend. Especially when I realised that I had six egg whites left over and a house that doesn’t really jump at the idea of meringues. Well, I thought, it’s been a while since I’ve made them, maybe everyone will have a change of heart. Surprise surprise, they did. And that’s the story how meringues were redeemed as a valid pudding choice.
Before making them, I had this idealised vision in my head of these beautiful mounds of dolloped off-white, swirled with pink dye or cocoa, or delicately swirled into little peaks, ready to be sandwiched together with rich vanilla cream. And although this is a perfectly valid (and delicious) way of thinking when preceding a meringue bake, it might not be the most productive. Just a warning to bear in mind how fickle these things can be. I am the first person to be over-ambitious when it comes to cooking, and too many times my cooking has fallen short of my baking smugness. You do have to respect the actions and reactions of eggs and sugar, both individually and together, and think about how ingredients affect each other to get it just right.
It’s very, very easy to pop onto a cooking website, or look in a book and pluck out a recipe to cook. It’s easy to even look at a few different recipes and compare them. It’s also easy to get tangled up in the Italian-French-Swiss debate, and I think this is the point where most people’s troubles begin.
All you really need to know for today is that there are three different types of making meringue, French, Swiss and Italian. French is the most popular meringue method, and it’s probably the one you made in school, it involves whipping egg whites with sugar and baking. The Italian method is cooking the sugar into a syrup and pouring it over the egg whites to slowly cook it. And the Swiss method is where the egg whites are warmed up and slowly whisk until it turns into marshmallow-ey goodness and bake it.
It really depends what sort of meringue you are looking for as to what recipe you should follow. If you like a meringue with a crisp outer shell and a chewy centre, this is the meringue for you! This recipe is the love child of Delia Smith and Yotem Ottolenghi.
Perfect Crisp-Chewy Meringues
4 egg whites
100g caster sugar
110g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
– Preheat the oven to 150C/130C (fan oven)/ Gas mark 2 and line a big flat baking sheet.
– Whisk the egg whites on low until they’re frothy and bubbly (this takes around 2 minutes).
– Turn it up to medium and whisk until the mixture is at soft peaks, add the vanilla, then start adding the sugar slowly a tablespoon at a time. Keep mixing!
– After all the caster sugar is mixed in, sift in the icing sugar and fold in until the mixture holds it’s peaks and is beautiful and glossy.
– Pipe or dollop it onto the baking sheet and immediately turn down the heat to 100C/80C (fan oven)/gas mark 1/4.
– Bake them for about half an hour, test them (give one a bit of a poke to see how easily it cracks), turn it down to the lowest your oven goes and leave them for about an hour. Turn the oven off, leave the door shut and take them out once the oven is completely cold.
And there you have it, for your meringue needs!