Sometimes as I am creating something in my kitchen, I ponder the alchemy of cookery . . . I wonder things like . . . who was it that discovered that eggs were good to eat . . . and then . . . having discovered that they were indeed very good to eat . . . who was it who discovered that if you beat them together with flour, butter, sugar and leavening . . . you ended up with cake???
And then, having pondered that . . . and in the nature of what I was making today . . . who was it that discovered that if you separated the white and yolks . . . the yolks could be beaten light and fluffy . . . and that having done so, if you beat sugar into them and then baked them . . . the result was lovely sweet, crunchy and light meringues???
Yes, I do have an enquiring mind . . . and sometimes I really do wonder about these things . . . perhaps it's just in my nature.
Today, having use the yolks for another purpose, I found myself with a surplus of egg whites. I decided to make some lovely light and sweet meringues. Lightly spiced meringues . . . redolent of ground cardamom and cinnamon . . . and then scattered with coarsely chopped raw pistachio nuts before baking . . .
Some people are afraid of meringues, but they're really not all that difficult to execute, if you follow a few simple rules. Room temperature whites. Clean, grease-free glass or metal bowl and clean beaters. If you add the sugar slowly, it will kind of melt into the egg whites and you will get a nice smooth texture, not gritty at all, and lovely volume. Oh . . . and don't use really fresh egg whites . . . you want them almost to the sell by date . . .for some reason, that's how you get lots of volume. The older the egg white . . . the larger the meringues.
These are beautiful served with sliced berries anda bit of whipped cream . . . kind of like a de-constructed Eton Mess . . . and every bit as lovely. Today I added a bit of lemon juice and icing sugar to the cream . . . so I got a kind of whipped lemon posset cream. You don't need much lemon juice, only a squirt. Your cream thickens up very nicely. If you find it a bit too thick . . . then just stir in a bit more cream.
D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!! The perfect light dessert for a warm "late" summer's day . . .with the last of the strawberries of the season . . .
*Cardamom & Pistachio Meringues*
Makes 4 to 6
Honey coloured, crisp sweet meringues. lightly spiced with cinnamon and cardamom and sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts. Perfect for serving with poached or fresh fruits.
200g of golden caster sugar (1 cup) (plus a bit extra)
3 large free range egg whites
a generous pinch of each ground cinnamon and ground cardamom
a handful of raw pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4. Line two baking sheets with some nonstick baking paper. Set aside.
Measure the egg whites into a large grease free glass bowl. Whip with an electric whisk until they are firm and fluffy. Fold in the sugar and spices. Continue to whip with an electric whisk until the mixture is glossy and thick.
Sprinkle the lined baking sheets with some caster sugar. Place into the heated oven to warm. Remove from the oven and then using two spoons scoop 8 ot 9 huge dollops of the whipped egg whites onto the baking sheets, leaving plenty of space in between for spreading. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachio nuts.
Place into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140*C/275*F/ gas mark 1. Bake for about an hour until they are pale honey coloured, reducing the temperature if they begin to brown too much. At the end of that time, turn out the oven (turn it off) and leave the meringues to see in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove and cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. Serve with sliced fruit, or poached fruits. Berries are especially good with these.
A few more tips for perfect meringues:
- Make them on a dry day. A humid day or rainy day means there's a lot of moisture in the air and this can adversely affect your meringues
- Cold eggs separate more easily than room temperature ones. Separate them fresh out of the refrigerator, and then let them come to room temperature before whipping.
- Separate your eggs into a small bowl, one at a time, and only adding them to the main bowl when you have done so successfully. The least little bit of egg yolk in the whites means they will not whip. Rather than spoil a whole bowl of whites, better that you only spoil one. You can try to fish it out with a piece of the egg shell, and that will often work, but don't try to use your fingers, as the oil from your fingers will also work adversely against them whipping properly.
- Use superfine sugar if you can. This ensures that it melts better during the whipping process, giving you a smoother textured meringue. Rub a bit of the meringue between your fingers. If it feels gritty, keep beating. Your mixture should be thick, glossy and quite smooth to touch.