Cost: about 50p for meringues to serve 16, plus £1 for cream and a bit more for fruit, depending on what you use
Lofty, yet indulgent, meringues with whipped cream are a dessert I have always adored but for years feared to make. My mother and I used to try different techniques at home, faffing about with hot sugar and different sugars, producing batches of cracked meringue, orange permatanned meringue, flat, despondent meringue and once, in a misguided attempt to save energy by cooking the main course and dessert in the same oven, meringue that tasted strongly and unmistakeably of roast pork.
I kept on trying though, partly because, along with macarons and egg-white omelettes, meringues are an excellent way of using up egg whites left over from mayonnaise or patisserie cream or similar – as well as being the kind of dessert that pleases everyone. Particularly with a big group of people (who by the law of large numbers often include dairy-free or gluten-free restrictions) I’ve found that it’s a really easy, pleasing pudding – we put out a tower of mini-meringue nests stacked onto a plate, a bowl of squidgy whipped cream (with a small extra bowl of whipped dairy-free cream) and another of fruit, and let everyone help themselves.
In case you were wondering how my meringue breakthrough happened, I probably came close to giving up completely when I couldn’t get my egg whites to make any kind of peak, so would pour the mixture out into a sad puddle that would bake into a rubbery disk. What changed? The hot water to our kitchen was fixed, and I had the unwelcome realisation that for the last few months, my bowls had never been completely grease-free. Moving swiftly on, things changed a few months ago – and the age of Reliable Meringues was ushered in by our good friend Tchern, who is a research postdoc and the best home cook I know. He came round for dinner and I asked him to walk me through the meringue process. The method below, which I have made many times since with consistent results, is his.
This basic meringue is on the stiff side, and is crispy rather than gooey, and it does hold it’s shape well if you pipe it with a rosette tip, but I don’t really like using piping bags unless it is really unavoidable, so I normally make these little nests by dolloping a dessertspoon of meringue onto a baking sheet and then using the spoon to hollow out a hole in the middle.
I tend to bag and keep egg whites in the fridge or freezer until they are needed, and always forget to record how many there are, so the best way I think is to weigh your whites, and then use twice this weight of sugar, e.g. 100g of egg white -> 200g of sugar. Apparently, old egg whites are a bit easier to make into meringue, but if you are using new eggs then an egg white weighs roughly 33g so about 66g of sugar per egg white.
Recipe: Mini Pavlovas
Serves about 16, but meringue keeps for about a week in an airtight container
I normally make these last thing, the night before they are needed so that they can sit tight overnight and we don’t need the oven for anything else at that time. We normally have frozen berries in the freezer and can defrost them overnight as well.
3 egg whites (weigh, but about 100g)
Twice the weight of the egg whites in golden caster sugar (about 200g)
Pinch of salt
150ml whipping cream
Fruit, to serve (e.g. 2 punnets of fresh raspberries, or blueberries, strawberries etc.)
Preheat the oven to 130C and line two baking sheets with baking parchment
1. Tip the egg whites into a large clean bowl (if using new eggs, break them into a cup or small bowl and transfer them to your main bowl…nothing like breaking your third egg and getting some yolk into the bowl of whites!) and add a pinch of salt. Whisk on a medium speed (on the Kenwood stand mixer I start at 3) for about 30 seconds until all the whites are foaming, and then increase the speed to maximum. Ensure all the whites from the edges are being whisked. Continue until mixture forms firm peaks, i.e. you can lift up the whisk and a peak will form, with the very tip falling over rather than pointing straight up. It’s better to err on the side of too stiff rather than too slack. The whipped egg whites should also be pulling away slightly from the sides of the bowl.
2. Stop the beating (won’t somebody please stop the beating!) and add a dessertspoon of sugar, sprinkling it over the surface of the egg whites as delicately as possible. Whisk this in on high speed (using the pulse setting on a stand mixer for about 10 seconds) then repeat, adding another dessertspoon and mixing it in. Before adding more sugar, check that it has completely dissolved by rubbing a small pinch of the mixture between thumb and forefinger – if it feels gritty, keep whisking before adding more sugar.
3. When all the sugar has been added, check that you have stiff peaks – when the whisk is lifted up, the peaks should be rampantly upright, right to the tip. Then gently dollop generous dessertspoons onto the baking sheet – leaving a few centimetres between each, as they may spread, but not hugely. Use the bowl of the spoon to hollow out little hemispheres, like a reverse scooping motion. I normally make 16-20 from a batch this size.
4. Bake in the oven for about an hour, and then leave in place with the door closed overnight (or for a couple of hours, until they come easily off the baking sheet)
Serve with whipped cream and fruit – fresh, frozen or cooked and cooled.
Ring the changes:
- Healthy option: serve with lots of fruit and low-fat Greek yoghurt instead of whipped cream – each meringue is mostly just air and sugar, but not masses of sugar per serving.
- Chocolate cream meringues: bake dessertspoons of the meringue instead of making them into nests. Slick the flat bases with melted white or dark chocolate and sandwich pairs of chocolate meringues together with whipped cream
- Autumn Pavlovas: substitute half of the caster sugar for brown sugar and serve with:
- fresh blackberries
- or make a full-sized pavlova and fill with apples cooked down into a sticky mush and folded into the whipped cream. Top with rhubarb, gently poached and still holding its shape, and chunks of crystallised ginger.
- Pimms’ Pavlovas: When whipping the cream, add a splash of Pimms when the cream is still soft, and carry on until it is fully whipped. Serve with sliced strawberries, very thinly sliced oranges or lemons and mint sprigs
- Isaphan Pavlovas: top with chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen), drained tinned lychees, and fresh passionfruit
- Mont Blancs: nestle a spoonful of chestnut purée into the hollow, then top with billowy whipped cream and sieve some cocoa powder over the whole lot
- Single fruit individually assembled pavlovas
- dribble with fresh passionfruit
- sprinkle with ruby pomegranate seeds