Friday, September 7, 2007
Of Mirth and Meringue
If you ever want to have some silly fun, whip up a batch of meringue. As far as the basics are concerned, it’s a great lesson on whipping egg whites and one where you can immediately see the enchanting results – billows and billows of white clouds that look like they’re about to float far, far away into the stratosphere.
Meringue is a fundamental pastry tool you can use to garnish a pie or a tart, make marshmallows, pipe meringue cookies, create some faux mushrooms for your Bûche de Noël or fashion an airy Pavlova.
A dessert created for Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian ballerina of the early 20th century, the Pavlova is a light cloud of meringue that is dried in the oven and typically topped with whipped cream, fresh strawberries, passion fruit, and kiwi. But create your own favorite fruit combinations. Here I use fresh berries because they were calling out to me at the farmer’s market and because I love them. Unequivocally.
- Egg whites are easiest to separate when cold, but achieve their best volume at room temperature.
- There are three methods for making meringue: whipping the egg whites when they are at room temperature (Classic Meringue); warming them with sugar before they are whipped (Swiss Meringue); and whisking in a cooked sugar syrup after they’ve been whipped (Italian Meringue). They all have different uses and when you vary the level of sugar added, you get variations in the final texture. Bake a cloud of meringue at a low temperature for a couple of hours to dry it out and it becomes a crunchy dessert element for added texture.
- When whipping egg whites, fat is the enemy. Be sure your mixing bowl and whisk are clean, dry and free of any fat. For example, there should not be any traces of egg yolk, butter, oil, nuts, or chocolate present. If there is even a speck of fat, egg whites will not whip. At all. Minutes will tick by and you will have a soupy mess. However, once they’ve been successfully whipped to a stiff peak, you can carefully fold in chopped chocolate or espresso, for example. Or fold in nuts to create a disc of dacquoise.
- Most recipes for meringue include salt and/or an acid. A pinch of salt helps to firm up the egg protein. An acid, such as cream of tartar, lemon juice or vinegar, stabilizes the meringue by preventing the bubbles from bursting once you stop beating. Cream of tartar is an acid salt.
- Once egg whites are whipped to the desired consistency, work quickly to use them as intended. They will start to deflate if allowed to sit.
- You can make smaller Pavlovas for individual platings or pipe bite-sized meringues filled with crème fraiche and topped with a berry.
- An optional raspberry sauce or coulis adds an additional layer of fruity tartness to balance the sweetness of the Pavlova.
6 to 8 servings
4 egg whites @ room temperature
1 C sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
2 pint of raspberries
1 pint of blackberries
1 c heavy cream, chilled
1 T sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
Raspberry Coulis (optional)
1 pint of raspberries
sugar to taste
lemon juice to taste
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Trace two circles with an 8” diameter on a piece of parchment paper using a dark pencil. Place parchment pencil side down on a baking sheet.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium low speed. Add cream of tartar when they are foamy. Increase speed to medium high and continue whisking until they form a soft peak. Slowly add sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time and continue whipping until meringue forms very stiff shiny peaks that hold their shape.
Drop meringue by spoonfuls onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread to the penciled outlines, using a light touch and letting it take its own cloud-like form. Place in the oven and bake for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meringue easily releases from the parchment. Turn off the oven, leaving the oven door closed, and continue to let meringue dry while the remaining ingredients are prepared.
Place 1 pint of raspberries in a blender or food processor and puree. Add sugar to taste and a splash of lemon juice and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust sugar and lemon juice as necessary. Strain into a container and set aside until ready to serve.
Whip the cream. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat just until it forms soft peaks.
Place a disc of meringue on a serving platter. Spread a layer of cream and distribute half the berries. Top with the second meringue and a second layer of whipped cream and berries. Serve immediately with raspberry coulis on the bottom of each plate or on the side.
meringue cookie photography courtesy of Jennifer Kanter/Semaphore Fine Preserves & Films