Meringues

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For me, clouds spring to mind when eating meringues; apparently certain regions in France think rather of farts…

Modern French meringues were first documented in François Massialot’s cookbook in 1692 however,  according to the Larousse Gastronomique, the originals may have been invented by a Swiss pastry cook from Meiringen (East Germany). Others speculate that the recipe was passed from the Duke of Lorraine to his daughter, Marie, who loved meringues so much that apparently, she once made them with her own hands. Weirdly, the earliest recipes for similar sweets were from England! A handwritten recipe for “white bisket bread” from 1604 was found in Oxfordshire, and pets was found in a collection of recipes in Kent. These may not be classed as  Italian, Swiss or French meringues but the recipe is easy and the results are lovely!

Ingredients/equipment:

– 3 large fresh eggs, room temperature
-180g caster sugar
Three large baking trays
– Baking paper
– A bowl, preferably a metal or glass one
– A whisk (preferably a metal balloon whisk)
– Small amount of vinegar or lemon juice

1. Rinse the bowl with cold water, dry thoroughly and wipe with the lemon juice/vinegar. Heat the oven to about 230°C.

2. Line three trays with baking paper. Sprinkle the sugar onto one of the trays so it’s evenly spread out and leave it to cook until the sugar around the outside of the pile melts. While waiting for the sugar to cook, follow the next step, but be ready to take the sugar out as soon as you see it melting.

3. Place the whites of the eggs in the bowl, taking care not to get any yolk in the whites (and if you lose any bits of shell, scoop them out with a clean spoon rather than your fingers)

4. Beat them with a whisk that has been treated similarly to the bowl. By the time the sugar comes out, the foam should be creamy and thick, with no big bubbles (see below). When you take the sugar out, remember to turn the oven down as low as it will go (for me that’s 50°C)

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5. Holding the sides of the baking paper, sprinkle in the sugar a little at a time, whisking thoroughly. Note that I’d wear oven gloves for the sugar-tipping bit – sugar gets incredibly hot and leaves nasty burns (from experience) so be careful! Carry on whisking until the mix is glossy and leaves a clear impression.

6. Spoon out blobs of mixture onto the remaining trays. If you want to make “taste-like they’re-from-a-pâtisserie” meringues, the key is to slow-bake them, hence the low temperature of 50°C. The only catch is that this usually takes pretty much a whole afternoon (up to six hours) so if you’re impatient, you can up the temperature… but be warned that the texture won’t be the same at all!

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If you prefer, you can, like Antoine Carême, use a piping bag to make your meringues into pretty shapes but traditionally, they’re just put out with a spoon!

7. Bake them until they are firm and crisp on the outside, and make a hollow sound when tapped on the base.

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While they are cooking, try not to keep checking on them too much. The surface of the meringues will shrink and expand, thus making them look cracked – me being easily over-excited, I kept opening the oven door… as you can see!

8. Leave the meringues in the oven until it has cooled down completely, then serve them straight away with dark fruit and berries :) Miam !

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