EUSTIS ON FOOD: The simple meringue

These are about as simple a dessert as there is, and with the counterpoint of the crackly-on-the-outside against the chewy-on-the-inside, it’s just perfection.

Great Barrington — While making pasta the other day, I used egg yolks, thus leaving me with a batch of egg whites. No more boring an omelet than one only with egg whites, so I thought of recipes. I remembered my grandmother who would make a batch of meringues for me every birthday. The perfect solution. And in this slow period, where time is spent at home curled up by a fire, a recipe that takes two hours, but not much manual labor, seems like the perfect project.

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Meringues in the blue tin that the author’s grandmother used. Photo: Tim Eustis.

I like simple desserts. Meringues are probably partly why. As a regular birthday gift, Nini, what we called my grandmother, would arrive with a fine blue farmhouse tin filled with the most scrumptious meringues. She was not the most accomplished chef, but she knew how to make these treats. And she did them every year, perfectly. Except for that one year when it wouldn’t stop raining and she couldn’t get them to rise and she tossed the tin to me filled with caramelized blobs of sugar and said, “enjoy,” with a sardonic laugh.

These are about as simple a dessert as there is, and with the counterpoint of the crackly-on-the-outside against the chewy-on-the-inside, it’s just perfection. And I still have that tin.

The key to good meringues is getting the egg whites stiff. The chemical term for this process is denaturing the protein ovalbumin. This is done by shredding the egg whites with a whisk (which is why a stand mixer is so valuable.) The addition of a lttle cornstarch, a non-caking additive to the powdered sugar, helps, as does beating the eggs in a copper bowl. (Copper: useful AND beautiful.) The cream of tartar acts, too, as a stabilizing agent.

To form the meringues, one can use spoons to form the mound. I find it much prettier to use a pastry bag, or cut the corner off of a Ziploc bag and squeeze them out that way. You can make lovely and fun shapes. Make them larger, smaller, whatever. They taste great still.

You can use meringues in different recipes, e.g. Pavlova, Lemon Meringue Pie, or Baked Alaska, to name a few. But I like them simple. With maybe a straweberry sauce on top. Plus, they are nutritionally harmless: a little protein from egg whites, and simple carbohydrates from the sugar. Enjoy!

It’s an easy recipe. See below.

Trays of meringues, perfectly baked.
Trays of meringues, perfectly baked.
Ingredients
  • Egg whites 3–6 (Doesn’t matter exactly. Adjust below ingredients based on taste. Below for 4 egg whites.)
  • Cream of tartar – ¼ teaspoon
  • Teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 200°F.
  2. Using a stand mixer or other electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartare and vanilla until you achieve stiff peaks.
  3. Gradually add the superfine sugar, until you get very stiff peaks.
  4. Using a pastry bag or a large ziplock bag with a small corner cut off, squeeze out attractive mounds of the mixture. (You can use larger spoons to create the mounds, whatever you have free.) Don’t worry about putting them too tight next to each other, they won’t rise all that much.
  5. Cook for two hours, rotating trays occasionally; start checking at 1 hr 30, though.
  6. Put them in a lovely tin separated with wax paper and give them to a young relative, who will think of you fondly forever.

 

A simple strawberry sauce topping.

Strawberry sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. strawberries, frozen or fresh — washed, hulled & sliced
  • ¼ cup sugar – adjust more or less to your preference
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ lemon, juiced

Instructions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small pot over medium heat.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook over medium low heat for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Serve warm or cold.