I’ve been on a meringue phase oflate. It’s this recipe from Smitten Kitchen that set me off. The cookies are absolutely unlike others I have ever eaten and if you can get hold of hazelnuts to replace the walnuts, I tell you they maybe one of the best cookies in the world. But the best part was that these cookies made me get past my one previous experience with meringues and realise that the magical foam of just egg white and sugar lends itself to an amazing variety of desserts but .
You could really play with the idea of a layered, flavoured meringue in many ways. Just work your way around combinations that are tried and tasted or are exciting to you. For example skip the lemon, add walnuts/hazelnuts and bake in tablespoonful size mounds for lovely nutty cookies; add a coffee flavour to the meringue and layer with an egg yolk-mascarpone cream for a tiramisu style pudding; swap out strawberries for pear and instead of having the chocolate in the meringue, drizzle it as a sauce over the cream for a Jamie Oliver-ish twist; add vanilla and cocoa to the meringue and top with cherries and grated dark chocolate for a dark-foresty dessert.. the possibilities are endless.
Broadly, layered meringue have the following cast of characters
1. The meringue – Essentially egg whites beaten with sugar till stiff. The texture of the meringue is determined by
a. The sugar-egg proportion. A proportion of 1/4 cup sugar for 1 egg white will give you a crisper meringue. Lower sugar will result in less crispness but honestly speaking I do prefer this to the overt sweetness of the higher sugar ratio.
b. Temperature – Higher temperature will dry out the outside and even caramalise it to a brown colour before the inside cooks.
c. Time to cook. – longer times, especially at lower temperatures will result in the meringue being cooked and hence drying out from within. Conversely, higher temperature will cook the outside while the inside is still/soft/chewy.
d. Size of the meringue – Larger meringue take longer to cook
Depending on how you use these factors, baking meringues can broadly give you two types of results. At one end of the spectrum is the crisp, crunchy one with an almost hollow middle.. great to crush and add to eton mess type desserts. The other a softer pavlova type of texture with a dry outside and a moist, soft, pillowy middle. A longer cooking time at a lower temperature (around 100c) yields the first (crumbly meringue) and cooking at slight higher temperatures (around 130c) for lesser time yields a soft fluffy marshmallowey pavlova-ish meringue.
2. The cream – Dairy cream is really the starting point here but you could flavour this as you like towards the end of whipping (add various spices, essences, herbs etc). The cream is whisked so it holds some shape and can top the meringue without flowing off. You could whisk the cream to soft peaks if you like (which is what I prefer) or beat till longer and go for the stuffer, harder whipped cream. I add mascarpone for a pronounced dairy-ish taste that I love but it’s really up to you.
3. Toppings – The topping range from fresh fruit, roast fruit, toasted nuts etc. The only rule is to watch out for the combinations you are heading towards and make sure all your flavours work together.
4. Extra flavourings – zest (lemon/orange); herbs; sauces – chocolate, caramel etc; fruit reductions (fruit juices boiled down till thick and saucy) all add more flavour and texture to the dish. I especially love the contrast that crunchy nuts can add to the meringue and cream.
Here is my recipe for browned, crunchy yet chewy meringue. Having said that, I would encourage you to use this as is but also get creative with it. Use it as a guideline and play with it as you will and you can arrive at diverse deserts.. from cookies to cakes to puddings.
Chocolate, lemon and strawberry meringue stack
The Meringue – will make about 4, 7 inch disks. 3 for the galette and 1 to ahem..taste
My favourite form of meringue has a chewy middle with a crunchy outside and so I make the meringues flatter and cook them at 150c till the outside is firm and dry (but not hard and brittle) but the inside is still chewy. I also quickly remove them from the oven so they dont cook any longer with the retained heat. Purists would probably say I am doing this upside down but I actually love that chewy sticky tough to get rid off result from cooking the meringue this way. In this recipe below, I love the way meringue melts in your mouth to reveal its chewy lemony-chocolaty center. Let me draw your attention to the lemony chocolatey part here. I find that dark chocolate with most things slightly tangy is actually brilliant..so so good. The freshness of lemon gives the deep dark chocolate flavour a beautiful brightness and the sourness a sparkle that is indescribable. Honestly, these meringues are great to be eaten as giant cookie disks but layered with cream and macerated strawberries.. they graduate from delicious to sublime.
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 350 grams dark chocolate chips, miniature chips or finely diced semi or bittersweet chocolate
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- Preheat oven to 150 c.
- Beat egg whites until foamy. Add salt, cream of tartar, lemon and vanilla, and whisk again till a soft peaks consistency.
- Add in sugar, a tablespoon at a time; whisking continuously till stiff peaks form. Fold in the zest and chocolate chips.
- Draw 7″ rounds on your parchment paper and spoon the batter onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheets being careful to work within the rounds.
- Bake for 30-45 minutes. or until the undersides of cookies are golden and the cookie is dry outside but gives way when pushed gently.
- Remove from the oven and let cool. I find that meringues sometimes stick to the paper but tend to get easier to remove as they cool.
- 1 cup whipping cream (very cold)
- 1-2 tablespoon sugar (To your taste really. I often put in even lesser go without to counter the very sweet meringue)
- Start with a very cold bowl in which you need to whip the cream till it starts to thicken. Now gradually add the sugar, whisking till you get the firm, fluffy consistency you want.
Tip: Be careful and watch the cream once it starts thickening. Stop when the cream is stiff or you may end up churning butter!
Macerated fruit – strawberries
- 2.5 cups strawberries
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- juice, zest of 1 lime
- Macerating or softening some fruits and vegetables with liquid helps break it down, making the produce softer and even more flavourful. In the case of strawberries, I just added a tablespoon or two of sugar (depending on sour the berries are), a spoonful or so of lemon juice and zest and toss everything together.
- Set aside for half an hour or so and you will end up with juicy, moist lovely fruit. I sometimes strain the fruit before using it to reduce the mess and then spoon the juices over each individual serving but in a pudding, the juices may turn out to be a good thing!
To sex up your fruit, remember you can add herbs/ flavourings/spices at this stage.. vanilla/ orange zest/ cinnamon/thyme go well with many fruits.
- You could assemble this dish pudding style by layering the cream and fruit in a dish with crumbled up meringue and drizzling with sauce or stack it up in layers, ending with the fruit on top.
Note: For the strawberry stack, I started with the meringue as a base, layered on cream and fruit and then repeated, ending with the strawberries on top.
A few other meringue experiments..
The softest fluffiest one I made which was a Pavlova with Kiwi and pineapple reduction. Did you know that Kiwi and pineapple go together pretty well ?
A lovely pizza style on with fresh juicy pear, walnuts and chocolate syrup
I tried it with some orange zest and loved it even more though some found the zest somewhat bitter
And then there was a crisp based one with kiwi and pomegranates. Ok but not my favourite to be honest.
And the disaster that almost cured me of my meringue madness – pavlova with lemon curd, roast almonds and cherry. Far too cloyingly sweet and sour.. altogether clashing with the almonds. Broke my heart.