Meringues and Easter were made to go together. It just seems so appropriate to make an egg-based dessert at Easter time, and meringues are the ultimate in egg magic. Made into individual nests, they are the perfect vessel for lashings of cool cream and piles of cute chocolate eggs. And even better, they can be made ahead of time if you’re planning a big Easter Sunday feast and don’t want to be rushing around the kitchen or juggling oven timings any more than you have to. These meringues will store perfectly in an air-tight container until the next day, but will even keep for three or four days after baking.
I mentioned many of the following tips in one of my very first recipes for chocolate-dipped meringues, but a few key pointers to keep in mind: – Make sure you don’t get even a drop of yolk or a miniscule shard of egg shell in the whites, as this will prevent the whites from whisking properly. – For the same reason, make sure your bowl and whisk are spotlessly clean. – Stick down your baking parchment (not greaseproof paper since meringues can stick to this) with a few dabs of the meringue mixture under each corner. – After baking, turn the meringues upside down, turn the oven off and leave to cool completely in the oven. Cooling in the oven helps the meringue form a crisp exterior. I have literally no idea why you turn them upside down but my mum does it so there. – Meringue making is essentially science in the kitchen, so weigh out your sugar exactly and stick rigidly to the cooking time and temperature. Some meringue recipes will call for a certain weight of sugar, but this is the most basic meringue recipe: equal weights of egg whites and caster sugar.
Ingredients (makes 3 dessert-sized meringue nests) 2 medium eggs Same weight as egg whites in caster sugar
Optional: food colouring gel, cream or yogurt to fill, mini eggs
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Separate out the egg whites from the yolks and weigh the whites.
There’s something about meringues that is pretty magical. Maybe it’s the way that a gloopy, anaemic liquid can be transformed into light, frothy clouds with just a whisk. Or maybe it’s the glossy, bright white mixture that appears once sugar has been added. It could be the texture after cooking, a perfect combination of crisp, soft and chewy. It’s definitely the wonder that only two basic ingredients, egg whites and sugar, can result in such a delicious treat.
Meringues can fit in equally well at afternoon tea or a fancy dinner party, and look impressive, but are easy enough that children love to make them. When we were small we had a wonderful step-by-step children’s recipe book which included a recipe for pavlova that we loved to make. Aged about 10 my little sister gave it a go all by herself. Unfortunately, she misread teaspoon as tablespoon and the end result was, shall we say, a little vinegary in flavour. A valiant attempt, but an advert for reading a recipe thoroughly if ever there was one.
I’d been contemplating making flavoured meringues a lot recently, and with four unused egg whites leftover from the custard I made last Sunday this seemed like the chance. I think the flavours I chose work perfectly together: the sharpness of the fruit, the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the intense sweetness of the meringue itself. If you want to try other flavours then go for it, but be careful when adding anything wet or runny as this can affect the texture of the meringue (for example, in this recipe don’t add any extra zest than stated because of the orange oil that will come with it). If you want plain meringues then just leave the added extras out, they will be just a scrumptious in their natural form.
Ingredients (makes about 14 meringues, depending on size) 4 egg whites 115g caster sugar
115g icing sugar
Zest of 1 small orange 2 tbsp freeze dried raspberries
Orange and pink gel food colourings (optional, but this gives a stunning finish)
150g dark chocolate
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Meringues require an extremely low oven temperature, which cooks them through without burning the outside and dries them out. 2. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. You are really going to want either an electric whisk or someone with tireless biceps to do this.
3. Add the caster sugar a spoon at a time, whisking constantly.
4. Add half the icing sugar, whisk, then add the other half and whisk. Pro tip: do not add the icing sugar while the blades are switched on. This results in unnecessary clouds of powdered sugar billowing around your kitchen and requires a lot of wiping down of surfaces, chairs and toasters.
5. You will now have a glossy, sticky mixture. Remove half of it into a different bowl and gently fold in the orange zest. Fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the remaining mixture.
6. Line 2 baking trays with parchment, not greaseproof, paper. Meringues will stick to greaseproof paper, but not baking parchment. I like to place a small blob of meringue mixture at each corner of the trays, so that the baking parchment has something to stick to and doesn’t slide around.
7. Use a large dessert spoon to create individual mounds of meringue mix on the trays. Dip the end of a skewer into the gel food colouring and swirl through the meringues to your hearts content.
8. Cook the meringues for approximately 1¼ hours, or until they are crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off, turn the meringues upside down and leave in the oven to cool. Pro tip: do not forget that you have meringues in the oven and switch it back on to cook something else. This will lead to burnt meringue (or pavlova, as it was in that case).
9. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water otherwise the chocolate will get too hot.
10. Dip the base of the meringues into chocolate, allowing a few seconds for excess chocolate to drip off. Leave to dry upside down, again on baking parchment.
We had these after a delicious Thai meal that my mum cooked on Saturday. She made her ridiculously simple, but exquisite tasting caramelised oranges. (**BONUS RECIPE** Allow 1 orange per person. Peel and slice. Slowly heat 170g sugar with 140ml water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the juice of ½ a lemon and pour over the sliced oranges. Chill.) As I banged on about before, oranges are at their primes right now, and they went so well with the meringues.
I think that the raspberry meringues would also be amazing served with fresh mixed berries and a generous dollop of cream during the summertime.
Speaking of which, is it summer yet? I have such a hankering for pesto and salad niçoise and fresh strawberries and Pimms.