Meringue Magic

I’m sitting here, in a bit of a slump, staring out into space and all I can think of is making meringues. But it’s too rainy, too damp, just too darn wet to make any kind of a reliable meringue. They’d probably be soggy on top and mushy in the middle. I could try, but good meringues, really good meringues, are worth waiting for.

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Summer’s best dessert.

You’ll have to pardon the Baby Brain.  It’s had me in a headlock for the last few weeks and I can’t seem to find half of my clothing or remember when I last cleaned the floors.  In April, I tried to combat it with the 3 Week Cadbury Cream Egg Miracle Diet, and in May, I switched to the 2 Week Chocolate Covered Oreo Detox instead.  Now it’s June, and I’m thinking of a Meringue-based challenge.

Now, I’m not talking about soft, Italian sorts of meringues you’d find on a pie or cupcakes.  I like those, too, but no, this is an entirely different monster.  The meringues I’ve come to adore in Ireland are a sweet delicacy on their own – crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and marshmallowy goodness when you hit the centre.  Ahhh.  And they’re so simple – just caster sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar.  Beat them up, plonk them (or pipe them, if you’re more refined) on a baking sheet, and bake them for what feels like a very long time.

Interestingly enough, the first time I had a meringue like this was NOT in Ireland or the UK – it was  right in my hometown, Bozeman, Montana.  Sometime when I was about 12 years old or so, a British man and his mother opened up a tea shop called Wellington’s in a cute little house on Mendenhall.  They brewed pots of tea with real tea leaves and served scones and sandwiches.   I still remember the day I noticed this funny looking white “flying saucer” in the pastry case and, though I didn’t know what it was, I asked to have it with my pot of Earl Grey.  I thought it might be a cookie or a marshmallow, and it turns out I was right.  Sort of.  The man brought it to me on a plate, covered with whipped cream and strawberries, which was not what I was expecting.  But wow – how delicious!  And how different!

I’ve always been a lover of Strawberry Shortcake – either with the biscuit-type base or Angel Food Cake – but these unfamiliar meringues served in a very familiar way soon soared to the top spot in my favourite summer dessert list.  Now I have them as often as I can, as well as their super-sized second cousin, the Pavlova (though I still prefer meringues even then).  And while there are some nice ones available in the local shops (we usually go with Marks & Spencer brand), the very best kind are the home made ones.  I used to make them at the Salthouse, but I had kind of forgotten how easy they are until I made them again a couple weeks ago.

I used the recipe from Joy of Baking, even though I wouldn’t really eat them like “cookies” per se.  Most versions you’ll find are very similar to this.  Just remember to have your egg whites clear of any yolk, beat them at room temperature, beat in the caster (or superfine) sugar gradually, and try not to attempt them on a wet day.  These are a gluten free treat, and can also be dairy free if you choose not to serve them with whipped cream.

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Crispy baked meringues with strawberries, whipped cream and creme de cassis.

My 2013 addition is to drizzle the whole lot with some Creme de Cassis from last year’s blackcurrants.  So so yum.

Funny, “meringue” is one of those words I always think I’m misspelling… and the longer I stare at it, the more unsure I become (again, Baby Brain here!).  I think I worry I’m confusing it with “merengue,” the dance from the Dominican Republic.  But at the end of the day, who cares?  I think they go together – maybe we should merengue while we wait for the meringues to bake.  Now that’s a diet programme worth trying. When the sun comes out again.  😉

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