I love meringues. They are, for me, a perfect balance of sugar, fluffiness and crunch. Add a splash of alcohol and a handful of flaked almonds, and frankly you’ve got a small mouthful of heaven.
I’m dangerously near to the delicious, but slowly-burning-a-hole-in-my-pocket Ottolenghi on Upper Street. His meringues are the best. Large, decadent, chewy and crunchy—they’re my kind of treat, a perfect mid-afternoon-slump solution. Too many, of course, and I won’t fit into my non-meringue-like wedding dress. Oh well. It’s a delicate balance.
The wonderful thing about Ottolenghi is you can recreate his vision in your own kitchen; I confess some of the recipes are ultra-fiddly, but the meringues are not. The approach however, is a tad unusual, and Swiss, apparently. Normally I would whisk the whites into submission, then add in sugar a bit at a time, then bake. Here, the egg whites are lightly cooked with the sugar first until it dissolves, then whipped for a good eight minutes before baking. This method produces a meringue which is more craggy, its crevasses bursting with brown sugar bubbles; the centres are softer, and the walls are thicker—it’s an altogether different experience.
First pot-hole – it’s easy to overcook the egg. If you have the heat too high, or leave the bain-marie for too long, you are in danger of creating a fried egg white sugar concoction. Not good.
After the melting comes the hardcore beating. I don’t yet own the obligatory artisan mixer with multiple attachments—am naturally considering adding it to the wedding list—so I stood for eight minutes, with a handheld beater on a high setting, watching the cooked egg and sugar transform into a glossy, gleaming mixure. I couldn’t resist a quick taste . Nor could the boy.
You don’t have to add alcohol—I just like the depth of flavour a touch of amaretto can add to the meringue. I leave it to the last minute when whisking then add a splash. And then you’re done. It’s that simple.
I kept my meringues fairly petite—I prefer to have more to nibble on—but Ottolenghi’s large cracked meringues are very impressive and would do well as a pudding with cream or ice-cream. Using two spoons helps to keep the organic meringue-like shape with curves and points and cracks.
Next step? Slowly bake, and tuck in. I love the notion of these little sugary puffs keeping in airtight containers for a week or so, but I can’t imagine them lasting for more than a day or two in my house.
Makes 10, adapted from Ottolenghi’s Cookbook
* 170g egg whites (about 5)
* 220g caster sugar
* 120g dark brown sugar
* 30g flaked almonds
* 2 tablespoons amaretto
Preheat the oven to 110˚C with two oven shelves well-spaced out and find two large baking sheets.
Put the egg whites and sugars in a heatproof bowl or bain-marie, and heat over a pan of simmering water until just finger hot (Ottolenghi says about 40˚C).
Remove from the heat and whip with an electric whisk or mixer for about eight minutes, until stiff and glossy and holding its shape when you spoon a bit out. Add the amaretto and whisk for another 30 seconds.
Line the baking sheets with greaseproof paper, using blobs of meringue in the corner to stick it down. With two large spoons, form balls of meringues on the baking sheets – about the size of a ping pong ball. Space them out as much as you can. Sprinkle with the flaked alondss.
Bake in the oven for about 2 and a half hours – they should be hard underneath with a bit of give in the top centres. Allow to cool (in the oven, if you’re somewhere humid) and then store in airtight containers