Friday 18 August 2017

up in the air

It only has two ingredients but meringue is a marvel of delicious, airy crunchiness. It can be a treat on its own, sandwiched with cream or, says Brenda Costigan, part of a cake

Brenda Costigan

My eyes light up when I see a plate of home-made meringues, delicious, airy concoctions of beaten egg white and sugar. They are very easy to make if you observe certain steps.

Freshly laid eggs are not suitable; they need to be at least a week old; and they should be at room temperature, not cold from the fridge. How the sugar is added to beaten egg whites is important, too. As a teenager, I was peeved because my little brother could make nicer meringues than I could: his were crisp and dry, while mine were weeping with sticky drops of syrup. So I watched him and noticed that he added the sugar a little at a time to the egg-white mixture as it whizzed around in the electric mixer. I, on the other hand, used to bung in all the sugar in one go.

Another successful method is to whisk in half the weighed sugar slowly, and then gently fold in all the remaining sugar at one go, which gives meringues a slightly crunchier texture.

The least bit of fat in the mix will prevent the egg whites from whisking up into the wonderful, stiff, white mix, so it is very important to use a spotlessly clean bowl. Egg yolk is rich in fat and even a drop of it in the whites will prevent the proper whisking. To avoid this, separate the yolk and white of each egg into small bowls, adding the white to the larger mixing bowl only when you're sure no yolk has got in with it.

If a little does gets in, you may be able to scoop out the offending egg yolk using a half-shell of the egg. Similarly, if a little eggshell falls into the whites, use a half eggshell to scoop it out. It is magic, almost like a magnet. If you try to lift it out with a spoon you could be at it for hours!

Baking parchment is ideal for lining the baking tins as it peels off so easily. Otherwise, use tinfoil or lightly oiled, greaseproof paper.

The usual combination for meringues is typically 50g (2oz) caster sugar for each egg white. They are baked at a very low temperature, as it is almost more of a drying-out process than a cooking one.

Always popular, meringues can be made into many different desserts and are ideal for summertime or anytime.

MERINGUES

Meringue half-shells, sandwiched together with whipped cream, are such a delightful treat. Remember, add the sugar gradually, beating between each addition until all is added. The following ingredients will give 10-16 shells.

You will need:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

175g (6oz) caster sugar

Extra caster sugar for dusting, optional

175ml (6fl oz) fresh cream, whipped and very lightly sweetened

150g (6 oz) dark chocolate, optional

Preheat the oven to 130°C, 275°F, Gas ½.

Cover two baking trays with sheets of baking parchment.

Put the egg whites in a dry, clean bowl. Whisk until they are getting stiff. Then start adding the caster sugar a spoon at a time, whisking between each addition until all is added, or whisk in half the sugar and then fold in the rest, using a metal spoon. Using a dessertspoon, spoon out oval shapes of meringue onto the baking trays. They will be a little bit chunky looking, which gives them a nice, home-made look. For large meringues, use a tablespoon.

Dust the meringues very lightly with a little extra caster sugar, if you are using it. You could also try scattering flaked almonds or desiccated coconut, or even brown sugar over the half-shells before baking.

Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the meringues are crisp. Turn off the oven and leave them to cool in the oven for a while, then put them on a wire tray to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Before serving, sandwich together with whipped cream.

To make chocolate-dipped shells, melt 150g (6oz) dark chocolate. Dip the base of each cooked, cooled meringue shell into the chocolate. Place on its side on a tin lined with baking parchment to allow the chocolate to set. It may be more convenient to position the meringue halves on crumpled tin foil, to keep them steady until the chocolate sets. Sandwich together with whipped cream.

LEMON GATEAU

(Pictured)

This is a two-tiered gateau, its base a lemon-flavoured sponge made with ground almonds and no flour, its top a layer of baked meringue. The layers are sandwiched together with lemon curd and whipped cream.

For the sponge layer, you will need:

4 large eggs, separated

110g (4oz) caster sugar

Juice 1 large or 2 small lemons

110g (4oz) ground almonds

For the meringue layer, you will need:

3 medium egg whites

175g (6oz) caster sugar

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

For the filling, you will need:

4 tablespoons good-quality lemon curd

150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped and lightly sweetened

Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5.

First make the sponge. Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9in) springform tin with baking parchment. I like to lightly grease the sides of the tin with a little butter before I put in the lining paper, which allows me to press it snugly to the sides of the tin, which prevents it falling onto the sponge.

Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks with 75g (3oz) of the caster sugar until thick and creamy. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl with the remaining caster sugar until they are stiff and greatly increased in volume.

Briskly stir the lemon juice and the ground almonds through the egg-yolk mixture and then mix or whisk about one third of the beaten egg whites into the mixture. Then fold in the remaining egg whites in two lots, gently but thoroughly.

It is worth noting that the beaten egg whites cause this sponge to rise in the oven, but it will collapse when it cools. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and very gently spread out. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the sponge is set and golden. Leave the sponge in the tin, standing on a wire tray.

After a few minutes, release the spring clip and lift off the sides. A little later, slide the sponge, still in its lining paper, off the base of the tin. Leave to cool completely, then, using a knife, loosen the lining paper from the side of the sponge and gently pull it away.

Don't try to lift the sponge -- it will break. Instead, put a serving plate over the sponge and invert with the wire tray so the base of the sponge is facing up. Gently peel the lining paper from the bottom.

To make the meringue layer, preheat the oven to 130°C, 275°F, Gas ½.

Place a layer of baking parchment on a baking tin, and on it mark out a 23cm (9in) circle.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and then beat in the caster sugar a little at a time, until the mixture is stiff and shiny.

The volume of mixture you will get from using three egg whites is possibly a little generous, but it is nice to have a full layer of meringue. You can always pipe or shape out a few little meringues to nibble later if you have too much.

Spread a very thin layer of the meringue over the circle that you have marked out on the baking parchment. Then, using a forcing bag, pipe another, generous layer of meringue on top, spiralling out from the centre. Or simply spread all the meringue over the circle. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

Bake in the oven for about an hour until crisp, dry and very lightly golden. Allow to cool in the turned-off oven with the door open.

Once it is cool, spread the lemon curd and then the whipped cream over the sponge. Peel the lining paper gently off the cooled meringue and place carefully on top. This cake will keep in a cool place for two to three days -- if I'm not around.

GATEAU DIANE

This is a great special-occasion dessert, with its two layers of meringue sandwiched together with chocolate cream and decorated with curls of chocolate. Serves six.

You will need:

4 large egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) flaked or finely chopped almonds, optional

For the filling, you will need:

150g (6oz) good dark chocolate

350g (12fl oz) fresh cream

1-2 tablespoons Baileys or Cointreau, optional

For the decoration, you will need:

110g (4oz) dark chocolate

Fresh strawberries

Preheat the oven to 120°C, 250°F, Gas ½.

Mark out three circles, 20cm (8in) in diameter, on three pieces of baking parchment and place these on appropriately sized baking tins. (If you want a bigger cake, double the ingredients and mark out three 25.5cm (10in) circles.) If your serving plate is a different shape, draw out that shape instead.

To make the meringue, whisk the egg white until frothy. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating with each addition. When all the sugar has been added and the mixture is stiff enough so that the bowl can be turned upside down, it is ready.

Divide the meringue between the three shapes and spread out to fit. Smooth the surface and scatter with the flaked or finely chopped almonds, if you are using them.

Bake for about an hour, until crisp and dried out and a pale colour -- it is not so nice if the meringue goes a deep golden colour. Cool on a wire tray.

The meringue can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container for a week or so, but make the chocolate cream on the day you serve the gateau.

Put the chocolate in a bowl with three to four tablespoons of the fresh cream and either the Baileys or Cointreau, if you are using it. Melt together over simmering water or in the microwave, avoiding stirring until the chocolate is melted through. Then stir well and allow to cool somewhat. Half-whip the remaining cream, then add the chocolate mixture to it and whip together until just thickened. This happens fairly quickly.

To make the decoration, melt the dark chocolate and pour onto a cold surface, or onto a pastry board, and spread out into a rectangular shape about 1cm (½in) thick. Allow to set but not to get cold. Use a sharp knife to scrape the surface of the chocolate, working towards you. A thin layer of chocolate will curl up. This is known as chocolate caraque. Repeat until you have enough. A little practice may be required to achieve perfect curls.

The chocolate cream is spread between each layer of meringue and then over the top. If there is enough to spare, it can be spread on the sides.

Decorate the top with the chocolate caraque and strawberries. If preferred, use a crumbled Flake bar.

L

Sunday Independent

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