Small and dainty meringues in four flavours with lemon, pistachio, raspberries and chocolate-cinnamon.
Meringues are everyone’s favourites but they may sometimes become a little bland if they are just the nest, just the base, just the pavlova bottoms. After all they are made from sugar and egg whites which taste of nothing.
So we pile on cream, load berries or passion fruit, so the poor meringue is reduced to a secondary character, a supporting part, a wallflower.
But it’s quite easy to make them stand up for themselves and become a dessert in their own right without whipped cream or fruit props. In order to do that, we need to make them taste of something other than just sugar.
My flavourings are: berries, pistachio, chocolate and lemon. Can you improve on that selection? I thought not.
But first things first: how to make perfect meringues?
There are various methods, differing mainly on how fast and how warm the sugar you add to the egg whites. All the secret additions that claim to make THE best meringues are useless: vinegar, cream of tartar, salt will not do any harm when added, but you will achieve your billowy, glossy result without them just as well.
Even the rule of egg whites being pristinely separated from the yolks, prepared in a squeaky-clean bowl wiped with lemon juice, is mythical.
I have effortlessly whipped stiff meringue from whites with specks of yolk in them, in a bowl that had not exactly come straight out of the dishwasher. A good mixer is the key – or bags of patience and elbow grease.
Egg whites that have been sitting around in the fridge are easier to whip than spanking fresh ones. I collect the whites in food bags, three or four per bag, and freeze them until the next meringue crave.
Although I wouldn’t recommend it, sometimes I defrost them and then change my mind, and back to the freezer they go, without much harm as long as they are going to be eventually thoroughly baked.
Burnt sugar meringue
This particular method of making meringue is borrowed from Ottolenghi and it works very well as long as you’re careful when handling hot sugar. The technique is a cross between Swiss meringue which uses hot sugar syrup, and ordinary cold sugar process.
The downside of it is that meringues occasionally crack, especially when flavoured with ingredients containing some moisture. But they taste wonderful anyway so who cares?
The method is about nearly burning sugar spread on a parchment-lined tray, then with utmost care pouring the sugar all at once into egg whites, with the beaters running.
Obviously, if you use a handheld mixer, you’ll need assistance from a family member. Then the meringue takes about 10 minutes of beating at high speed and the glossiest, shiniest perfection is ready to be flavoured and piped.
How to flavour meringues?
Lemon zest is the simplest flavourful addition. Fruity taste can be achieved by grinding freeze-dried berries to a powder and folding into meringue.
You can use shop-bought powders but they are usually awfully expensive, while freeze-dried fruit can also be used in other kinds of baking or as an addition to cereals and porridge.
Pistachios or other nuts need to be finely chopped before adding to the meringue. Cocoa is simply sprinkled on, but I like to also add some cocoa nibs for extra crunch. And don’t skip a dusting of cinnamon over the cocoa meringues: chocolate and cinnamon is a gorgeous combination.
Piping or spooning?
If you want to make just one kind of flavour, don’t bother with piping. It’s a chore and I hate doing it as much as anybody else. Just fold your flavouring through the meringue mix and spoon piles onto parchment.
If you want to make several different flavours, it’s best to add each ingredient to a portion of meringue in a piping bag set in a tall glass. You can twist the top and squish and squash the bag to mix it.
If the meringues are about the size of golf or ping pong balls, they should bake 90 minutes for crunchy outside and chewy centre. If you prefer them softer, switch off the oven after 70-75 minutes.
You can test by gently lifting a meringue with your fingers: if the bottom is dry and the meringue gives in to a bit of pressure, it’s ready.
Still, keep them in the switched off oven until completely cold, before packing away into the biggest and the most decorative biscuit jar you have.
More meringue recipes
Meringue kisses, made with a slightly different technique, are sandwiched with chocolate ganache.
Mini pavlovas are easier to make than a whole big one, and taste just as gorgeous.
An airy pillow of meringue crisp on the outside, meltingly soft inside with jammy dates and crunchy walnuts locked in caramelised sugar like in amber – that’s date and walnut nougat meringues.