Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hot Meringues



First published Canberra Times 24 August 2011.
Biting into a crunchy meringue is a wonderful sensation - that crispy outside and marshmallowy soft centre melts away to nothing on your tongue.  There is no better place to eat them than in France, where patisserie shelves are piled high with these light, crispy confections. They are usually made in large freeform shapes in a subtle, swirly palette of colours and flavours.
The French were one of the first countries in Europe to make meringue, known as "pets" back in the middle ages. The literal translation of pets is "fart" because the meringue texture is as light as air. I think if we venture into the nearest cake shop here and ask for some "farts" we might not get the reaction we are expecting.
The earliest recipes call for the egg whites to be whisked with birch twigs and shaped into tall sculptures to adorn feasting tables for nobles and royalty . The meringue was used as a structural element to provide support for large edible centrepieces.
The meringue has long since ceased to be the perogative of the rich and powerful. Which 1960's kid could resist the local cake shop with its heady scent of vanilla essence and its orderly rows of pink piped meringues lined in formation? Where would Australian popular culture be without its iconic Aussie pav?
This recipe breaks the "rules" for meringue-making as it strays from the traditional and more well known methods by combining  egg whites, sugar and boiling water at the beginning of the recipe. The end result is not as dry and crisp as traditional methods, but has a crunchy outside and a soft marshmallow centre. This is a perfect winter dessert when eaten warm from the oven, combined with an oozy, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
French meringue is the most popular method used by home cooks, using caster sugar beaten into egg whites, and is the usual way to make our famous pavs. Italian meringue is made with a pre-made boiled sugar syrup, which is added to beaten egg whites. It results in a much more stable consistency and is used in pastries and pies to prevent collapsing. On the other hand, Swiss meringue is made by whisking egg whites and sugar over warm water and then whisked until cooled and then baked.
As is usual for meringues, the egg whites should not contain any yolk or they won't whip up. You can pipe them or shape them between two dessertspoons to form large mounds. I like to use the dessertspoon method because it makes them puffy and decadent looking.

You can add Tia Maria or any liqueur you like to the chocolate sauce. I add a few fresh berries to the plate and some maple syrup coated macadamias for colour and crunch. Don’t forget to leave your eggs out of the fridge to warm to room temperature which allows the whites to whip to a greater volume.

Meringues
3 egg whites
2 cups of icing sugar mixture
½ cup of boiling water
¾ cup thickened cream, whipped
Chocolate sauce
100 g dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup thickened cream
2 tbsp Tia Maria
2 tbsp boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C.

Beat egg whites, icing sugar and water in a small bowl of your electric mixer for about 8 to 10 minutes or until firm peaks form.

Using a large metal spoon, drop 8 equal portions of mixture onto large baking trays lined with baking paper. Bake on lowest shelf, in moderate oven, for about 20 minutes or until browned slightly and firm to touch.

For the Chocolate sauce, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over low heat without boiling and chocolate is melted.

Gently lift the hot meringues from the oven tray to serving plates. Top with whipped cream and a large drizzle of Chocolate sauce. Add berries or nuts to taste and dust with icing sugar.
Photos  by Steve Shanahan.