I have this thing about meringues. It’s like a war. I love making them, because they are delicious and light, and you can sandwich them together with frosting, so they are basically just an excuse to eat frosting. But I also hate making them because one time in two, they don’t turn out. There are many reasons for the egg whites not whipping up properly, which you can read about here. Quick summary though: If your beater/bowl is dirty, it won’t work; if there is any water in the bowl, it won’t work; if there are any bits of eggshell in the whites, it won’t work; and if your egg whites aren’t room temperature, it won’t work.
And I sit here giving you all my reasons why meringues are so finnicky, but the underlying reason (and there usually are underlying character flaws for all of my baking mistakes) is that I am careless and impatient. I think to myself, “Oh, leaving the eggs out for 20 minutes beforehand is enough to bring them to room temperature, surely. And besides,
Facebook calls I’m supposed to be applying for jobs right now. I’ll just start whipping the meringues now.” So I do, and the end result is that my eggs whites sit in a gloppy white puddle, with a bunch of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
So I am declaring war on my character flaws (insofar as they affect my baking skills) and I will attempt to do right by meringues. I was patient with these, even going so far as to pipe them into puffs. Then I quick-baked them so they turned out hollow filled them with a coffee-flavored buttercream.
This buttercream recipe is one from my new favorite cookbook The Great British Bake Off’s “How To Bake: The Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets.” I’ve never seen the show, which is probably good because I’d probably be addicted like I was to Alias in ’06 (unhealthy). I love love love the cookbook though because the recipes in it are so classically British, and it reminds me of my time over there. Anyway, the buttercream is made with egg yolks rather than egg whites, which made for a very smooth consistency. I had trouble with one batch splitting–be very careful not to overbeat it–but I’m still counting this as a win because I didn’t have any problems with the meringues themselves.
This means war,
Lauren 1 Meringues 0
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup regular or superfine sugar
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Beat egg whites until foamy. Add salt, cream of tartar and vanilla, and beat mixture again until it holds soft peaks. Add the sugar, gradually, beating the batter until it is stiff. Spoon batter onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 25 minutes. Undersides of cookies should be golden or lightly tanned.
Adapted from The Great British Bake Off’s “How To Bake”
Makes enough to decorate 12 cupcakes or to fill and top a 20cm sponge cake pan
85 grams caster (superfine) sugar
2 large egg yolks
150 grams unsalted butter, very soft but not runny
1 teaspoon vanilla OR 75 grams dark chocolate, melted and cooled OR 1-2 tablespoons cold, very strong black coffee
a sugar thermometer or cooking thermometer
Put the sugar and four tablespoons water into a small heavy-based pan and heat gently, without boiling, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and boil until the temperature reaches 110 degrees C/225 degrees F on a sugar thermometer. This will take about five minutes. Don’t let the syrup caramelize.
Meanwhile, put the egg yolks into a heatproof bowl and mix briefly. Stand the bowl on a damp cloth to keep it from slipping. Pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly with an electric mixer. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes very thick and mousse-like, pale in color and completely cold.
Gradually whisk in the soft butter followed by the vanilla, chocolate or coffee (to taste). Spoon or pipe the buttercream onto the cakes. In warm weather, chill the decorated cakes just until the icing is firm.