Friday, July 20, 2012

I Forgot!

Every cook needs a recipe or two that costs almost nothing to make, takes almost no time, doesn't heat up the kitchen and still looks impressive as all get out.   Remember those four egg whites left over from the Key Lime Pie Grandma told you to save the other day?  Well, here is what Grandma turned them into:

4 eggs whites, 1 cup of sugar = 3 different desserts!

Very few things are as versatile as meringue.  Angel Cake, French Macarons, Floating Island, Marshmallows, Boiled Icing, Baked Alaska, Coconut and Almond Macaroons, Pavlova, Angel Pies & Tarts and the meringue that tops your favorite pie all start with nothing but egg whites and a bit of sugar!  

The best bit about these particular meringue desserts?  You put them in the oven, turn the oven off and walk away, forgetting all about them!
Meringue is dead easy to make.   Classically, egg whites were whipped in a copper bowl with a huge whisk.  You might recognize this method:

Julia Child beating egg whites by hand in a copper bowl.

You can, of course, still whip your egg whites this way if you happen to have a copper bowl and a huge balloon whisk handy.  Otherwise any scrupulously clean glass or metal bowl will do.  You might also happen to find a mixer handy.  

Making Meringue

Note:  You can make meringue using almost any amount of egg whites.  For each egg white you want about 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar (some recipes omit cream of tartar entirely) and 2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup of sugar, depending on how sweet you would like your meringues.  Here Grandma uses the 4 egg whites left over from the Key Lime Pie.

Step 1:  Put the 4 egg whites into a bowl.   Grandma used her big Kitchen Aid but if you are using less than 3 egg whites you may want to use a hand mixer.

 Step 2:  Add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar.   Cream of tartar is the white powder that you see here.  Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine making.  If you've ever canned your own grape jelly, you may have found cream of tartar at the bottom of the bowl after allowing your grape juice to stand for a bit.  Cream of tartar is often included in baking powder or used as a leavening agent by itself, but when added to egg whites the purpose is to stabilize them and increase their volume.

Step 3:  Turn on the mixer

Shaping the Meringues

Grandma decided to make Meringue Tart bases and some Forgotten Cookies with the meringue.  Here's how:

Marking circles to the desired size with the bottom of a can.

Meringue layers or tart bases can be made in almost any size.  They keep for several weeks in a closed container, can be frozen and are easily re-crisped in the oven if need be.

  • Cover your baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper that you have lightly greased and floured. 
  • For a large pastry like a Pavlova or cake layers, place a layer cake pan or a plate of the diameter you want upside down and trace around with a pencil.  (If you are using greased and floured waxed paper you can use a butter knife, being careful not to cut the paper.)  
  • Turn your parchment paper over so the pencil mark does not touch the meringue.  Do not use ink! (If you are using waxed paper do not turn it over.) 
  • If you would prefer individual servings, use something 4-5 inches in diameter to mark your circles.

A tray of meringues ready for the oven.  The tiny smear of egg white will wipe away or 
can be gently broken off after baking.  
A four egg white meringue recipe will make about 12 individual sized meringue.

Pile a generous amount of the meringue (2/3 - 3/4 cup) in the center of each circle, then use the back of a spoon to spread the meringue into a circle, making the outside a bit higher than the center.   That dip in the center will keep your filling from rolling out all over the plate.  Note:  If you intend to use these as cake layers make your meringues even on top rather than with a raised edge.

Forgotten Cookies - add 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped nuts to half the meringue.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment or lightly buttered & floured waxed paper.
Long ago and far away, the first time that Grandma went off to college, one of her friends used to make these Forgotten Cookies every time that we went home for the weekend for us all to enjoy on the ride back to school.  Since Grandma had no need of a full dozen meringue shells, she added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts to half of the meringue and dropped it by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper.

Forgotten Cookies

Baking the Meringues

A properly baked meringue shell or forgotten cookie is lightly colored and thoroughly dried out so that it is crisp all the way through.  Directions vary from one recipe to the next and there is a difference in baking them in an electric oven and in a gas oven with a pilot light, where they will need a bit less time.  Grandma preheated the oven to 350F, put the baking trays into the oven, turned the oven down to 200F and walked out the door to go shopping.  When she came home two hours later she turned the oven off and let the meringues stand in the oven overnight.

The following morning carefully remove the meringues from the parchment.  Store them in a tightly covered container in a cool dry place for 2-3 weeks.  Do not refrigerate.

Putting It All Together

Meringue base topped with mixed fruit*, raspberries and whipped cream!  
Grandma likes to use a frozen fruit mix that contains honey dew and cantaloupe melons, peaches and grapes.  Remove the grapes (they are ugly when they thaw) and thaw the fruit only about half-way before serving so that your meringue does not become soggy.  No extra sugar required.

Meringue base topped with Lemon Curd,  whipped cream and a few gorgeous blackberries!
Another variation that Grandma likes:  Top the meringue shell with a scoop or two of ice cream or sorbet, then add sauce and garnish with a dab of cream.  Coffee or chocolate ice cream with fudge sauce, peach ice cream with raspberry sauce and strawberry sorbet with strawberry sauce are all luscious!

Other Meringue Ideas

A few weeks ago some dear person sent me Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook, which I can't say enough good about. I've been having great fun with it.  Among the many treasures you'll find inside the covers is an entire section of easy meringue desserts.  One such gem is Darina's Frosted Meringue Cake.  Darina writes (pg. 398):

We use about equal volume of lightly whipped cream and broken meringues.  For best results the broken meringue should be in biggish chunks - say 1-1 1/2 inches (2-4 cm) at least, although you often have to use what you have.  Err on the side of having too little rather than too much cream.  Mix the broken meringue pieces into the whipped cream,  Turn into a cake or loaf pan which is lined with plastic wrap, smooth over the top and cover tightly.  Freeze.  To serve, remove from the freezer, put onto a chilled plate and cut into thick slices, then serve in one of the following ways . . 
Darina goes on to give several variations including chocolate sauce with crushed praline, an Irish coffee version and a version with summer fruit.

Grandma knows you must have seen pictures of French Macarons, luscious little discs of colored meringue sandwiched together in pairs with various fillings.  One of the earliest mentions Grandma can find of the trend comes from Dorrie Greenspan in Paris Sweets: Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops

Since then there have been dozens of other books from a number of authors featuring macarons.

Meringue is one of the most recently added books on Grandma's Wish List.
Egg whites, sugar, a pinch of cream of tartar or a dash of vinegar-and air. So simple, yet so divine!

Meringue isn't just magical. It's mysterious. No one can quite agree on its origins (and here's a hint: it wasn't invented in France). While most food historians confirm Marie Antoinette's love of meringues, some say that meringue goes back to a much earlier date . . . and that it was invented in England, of all places. We know one thing for certain: meringue is deceptively simple, and once you know the basics, you can create sweet magic with meringue cookies, Pavlovas, pies, tarts-even marjolaines and dacquoises.

Publication is set for August 1, 2012.  Pre-orders are covered by Amazon's preorder price guarantee.

And one more from Julia Child

As many of you must know by know, August 15, 2012, will be the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birthday, so there are doings all over the place in honor of "Our Lady of the Ladle."  Yesterday Grandma came across this great video from In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs that works right into Grandma's citrus & meringue theme.  (The DVDs are not available, but you can still grab a copy of the book.)   With a little digging, Grandma even found the recipe.

The video is in four pieces.  Grandma has broken the recipe (Julia never did write a short recipe!) to match the sections.  Don't let the length of the recipe throw you as this is really quite an easy recipe.

Triple Citrus Meringue Tart

For Johanne's Sweet Tart Dough:

Ingredients For 18 to 20 Ounces Of Dough (Enough for 1 Large Tart, 2  9-Inch Tarts, Or 4 Little Tarts For Two)

  • 8 ounces(2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cold orange
  • A  2-cup measure with ice water
  • 2-cups scooped and leveled unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

The Butter.   It is essential that the butter be very cold when making this tart dough. Cut it into 1/2-inch cubes and return the cubes to the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes while you set up the food processor and gather the dry ingredients.

The Liquid.  Remove the zest (colored part of the peel) from the orange and chop very fine; you should have about 2 teaspoons. Squeeze 2 tablespoons of the orange juice into a 1-cup measure and add ice water to the 1/4-cup mark. Stir in the orange zest and refrigerate until needed. Return the ice water to the refrigerator in case it is needed.

Mixing the Dough. Place the chilled butter and liquid at your side. Measure the flour, sugar and salt into a plastic bag and toss together.  Add the well chilled butter, tossing and turning the bag quickly to coat each cube with flour (this is to prevent the butter cubes from sticking together). Transfer the mixture to the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse on and off about fifteen times, until the butter particles are the size of small peas. then immediately, with the motor running, pour in the cold liquid all at once. Process for 10 seconds, then stop the machine and test the dough----it should just hold together when squeezed between your fingers. If too dry, briefly process in an additional teaspoon of ice water and test again. It is better for the dough to be a little too moist than a little too dry. Turn it out onto a sheet of aluminum foil, pressing any loose particles into the mass of dough. Handling the dough as little as possible to prevent it from toughening, form it into a rough 7-inch disk. Cover  completely with aluminum foil and refrigerate for and hour or more.

Ahead of Time Note: The dough will keep for 2 days under refrigeration. Chef Johanne is not enthusiastic about freezing it.

Grandma's Note:  If you do not have a food processor, mix the sugar and salt with the flour, then add the butter and rub the butter & flour quickly between your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, just as you would for regular pie dough.  You may need one or two more tablespoons of liquid.

  • 1/2 recipe  Johanne's Sweet Tart Dough (above)
  • About 1/2-cup unbleached all purpose flour ( for dusting the dough and counter)
  • 3 tablespoons superfine sugar 
  • 1 large organic lemon or 1 large regular lemon, dropped into boiling water for 30 seconds, then sliced paper thin
  • Lime Curd (below)
  • Meringue (below)

Preheat the oven to 450°F in time for baking.

Preparing the Crust: Beat and roll the dough (it will be somewhat recalcitrant!) into an 11-inch circle, sprinkling a little flour as needed onto both the dough and the rolling surface--the circle need not be perfect. roll it up on your pin and unroll it onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Preparing the Lemon Filling: With the mandoline or very sharp knife, make paper thin crosswise slices of lemon and carefully poke out the seeds from each. Leaving a 1 1/2- inch border all around, cover the dough with the lemon slices starting in the center and working your way toward the outside in concentric circles. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the lemon slices. Raise the plain dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit. Gently pinch the soft pleats that form from the draping. (the center of the tart will remain uncovered.) Press the dough down onto the baking sheet, snugly securing the sides and the bottom of the pastry.

Ahead of Time Note: The tart may be prepared to this point about and hour or so before baking. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Lime Curd

Ingredients for 2 Cups
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice ( 6 to 8 small limes)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
Break the whole eggs directly into the saucepan. using a whisk and being careful not to beat too vigorously and cause air bubbles, blend in the yolks, sugar, lime juice, and cream. Set over moderately low heat and stirring rather slowly but constantly to reach all over the bottom and sides of the pan, bring the custard to the boil; it will thicken into a mayonnaise like cream. If by any chance it is not smooth and free of little lumps, pass it through a fine meshed sieve. then set the saucepan into the ice water and stir occasionally until the curd is cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Lime Butter Cream: You can turn lime curd into a buttercream filling or frosting simply by beating into the cool finished curd 6 to 8 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter, a tablespoon at a time. Very nice for Special occasion cakes and petits fours.
Orange and Lemon Curds and Butter Creams: Follow the exact same system substituting oranges or lemons for the lime.

Grandma's Note:  I've placed this recipe here because this is the order it is shown in the video.  In real life, I would make the Lime Curd first - even a day or two before I intended to use it.

  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
For Baking And Serving The Tart
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lime curd
  • Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

The First Baking-----The Shell: Bake the tart for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is golden and the lemon slices have begun to caramelize. Transfer the baking sheet, with the tart shell on it, to the rack.

Preparing the Meringue: Whip the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until frothy. Sprinkle in the remaining superfine sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while whipping. After all the sugar is incorporated, continue to whip until the egg whites form stiff peaks.

The Second Baking---Finishing the Tart: Spread the lime curd over the lemon slices, then cover the entire surface of the tart with the meringue, mounding it as high as possible. Pull at the meringue to form irregular peaks, as show in the finished tart. return the tart to the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown. dust with confectioners' sugar and serve at once.

Grandma's Note:  This meringue will not be crispy like the meringues that Grandma made above, but soft and fluffy just like the meringue on a Lemon Meringue Pie.  

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Stay cool - and have a wonderful day!


  1. I had no idea meringues were so easy to make and I will definitely be making some of the Forgotten cookies next weekend. Thanks!

    (CSam from Ammy)

  2. Great ideas, Grandma! And really not to bad on the waist line :) Thanks.

  3. I just got the book "Meringue" last week, so far I have made the banana custard pavlova, and the cherries jubilee. Both were fantastic. I could make something from that book every day. I want to try the lemon meringues, a riff on lemon meringue pie, there is one that uses hazelnuts and nutella I can't wait to try, and the directions are really easy to follow. MMMM.. Meringues!

    Becky (beckygardens)


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