Meringues were most definitely my all time favourite treat as a child. I have always loved little tea rooms that served tea in china cups accompanied by plenty of delicious goodies. This fondness started at a young age when if a truly special treat was on the cards, tea and meringues were normally in the equation! I have many treasured memories of long chats with my mother while enjoying an afternoon tea together.
Meringues still rate fairly high among my must have desserts. It is quite amazing that the end result of mixing sugar and egg whites could be something so delicious! There is that notion that to achieve flawless meringues many careful steps needs to be adhered to, but really it is fairly simple. If you follow my step by step advice your meringue/Pavlova should turn out altogether perfect.
Firstly the recipe asks for egg white – no yolk is needed so carefully separate the eggs. The condition of the mixing bowl is important, stainless steal is better than plastic as it is less likely to have any greasy residue remaining from previous use. However you can also achieve perfect meringues with a spotless plastic bowl. The mixture needs to be whipped until stiff, which takes about 5 minutes in a good quality mixer but a little longer with a hand mixer. I wouldn’t recommend whisking by hand - unless you are trying to really build up your biceps! The oven needs to be on a low heat – about 140ºc/275ºf/Gas Mark 1. Once you have checked the meringue and it is firm and crisp but still soft on the inside it’s cooked. Simply turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool completely before removing from the oven. This stops the delicate meringue from cracking while cooling. Try to resist the urge to open the oven door to peep in at your marvellous creation!
The Meringue base can be topped with any delicious fruits that are in season! For this recipe I am topping the base with vanilla cream and some cooled poached fruits. I know the finish product looks a little messy but believe me it tastes just heavenly! Last summer there was a great yield of all fruits in Ireland and I still have many bags of berries remaining in my freezer. I have used these for jams and smoothies but I love to have these beautiful berries at hand when I am baking a dessert. To finish off this positively impressive delicacy I like to sprinkle a few chopped nuts but you could also grate a little chocolate. Enjoy!!
225g/8oz caster sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice
4 free-range egg whites, at room temperature
For the poached fruit
500g Mixed Berries
250mls red wine
125g caster sugar
1 orange, zest and juice
1 vanilla pod, seeds removed (save some for the vanilla cream), or 1/2 teasp of vanilla extract
1/2 teasp cinnamon
For the vanilla cream
300ml/11fl oz cream
25g/1oz icing sugar
Reserved vanilla seeds (see above) or 1/2 teasp vanilla extract
1. For the meringue, preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
2. Put the sugar and lemon juice into a large bowl. Add one egg white and whisk for a minute. Then add the remaining egg whites and whisk for 5-7 minutes or until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
3. Dollop the mixture in a 20cm/8in circle on the baking paper, making the sides slightly higher than the centre. Bake in the bottom of the oven for 1–1½ hours, or until the meringue is firm and crisp on the outside but still soft inside. You don’t want too much colour – it may begin to turn a very pale beige. Once cooked, turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside until completely cool.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the fruit filling. Put the wine, caster sugar, orange zest and juice, vanilla and cinnamon into a medium saucepan set over a medium heat. Heat the liquid until just boiling, then reduce the heat to a poach. (A poach is when there is only one or two bubbles breaking the surface of the liquid.) Cook on a gentle heat for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid has become like a syrup. Add the fruit, bring back to a simmer then remove the pan from the heat, leaving the fruit to cool in the liquid.
5. To make the vanilla cream, whip the cream, sugar and vanilla seeds in a large bowl. The cream is whipped enough when it just starts to hold its shape in the bowl.
To Assemble (just before serving)
Drain the fruit through a sieve-you can reserve the liquid to use again.
To assemble the Meringue, place the meringue onto a serving plate and dollop the cream mixture all over it. Pile the drained fruit on top of the cream and serve.
This article was published in The Westmeath Independent on 2nd March 2011.