Chocolate meringues

chocolate meringue

One of my many and varied jobs at the moment is editing a magazine called Manna. I’m thoroughly enjoying working on the summer issue as the theme is Food & Farming, which means I get to talk to people across Somerset who are involved in producing our food.

One of the highlights so far has been interviewing an incredibly inspiring farmer called Anita near Clevedon in North Somerset. We chatted solidly for three hours about the rewards and challenges of running a farm while bringing up a family, stopping only when her husband popped into the kitchen to let us know one of the cows was calfing and to see if I’d like to take some action photos. Of course I jumped at the chance and I very nearly blubbed when the gorgeous little heifer came into the world.

As well as the herd of dairy cows, Anita also has free-range poultry. At the end of the interview she insisted I take away with me a huge tray of eggs. I loved the fact they were all sizes and colours. These are the ‘imperfect’ ones the supermarkets won’t take.

eggs

While we do appreciate eggs in our house, we’d have been hard pushed to get through this little lot, so I shared them with my good friend Sarah. We’ve been enjoying more than our usual quota of eggy breakfasts and I’ve made a batch of lemon curd. But of course, we also had to make meringues.

I’d seen a recipe for chocolate meringues on the BBC Good Food website and have been meaning to give them a try, so here was the perfect opportunity. Mine turned out nowhere near as neat and pretty but they tasted just the ticket; light and crispy and a little bit chewy. The plain chocolate also stops them from becoming overly sweet. Which means you can easily much your way through quite a few in one sitting.

The original recipe suggests you put all the meringue mixture into a piping bag and then “make a hole in the mixture all the way to the funnel tip. Pour the chocolate into the hole.” I don’t have the most delicate of touches admittedly, but I just couldn’t pull this off, even after several attempts. So instead I simply layered the meringue and the chocolate in the bag, which worked OK. If you can get it to work, please come back and tell me how you did it!

Next time I make them, I think I might try adding some chopped nuts to the chocolate. And maybe sandwich them together with some whipped cream for an indulgent dessert…

chocolate meringue

Chocolate meringues

This is a recipe I adapted for the Aga. For a conventional oven, take a look at the original recipe on BBC Good Food.

100g dark chocolate
4 egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice
200g caster sugar

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Microwave on a low setting for a minute and then stir. Repeat again for another minute and so on, until the chocolate has just melted. Allow to cool a little while you move on to the eggs.

In a clean, large bowl add a tablespoonful of lemon juice to your egg whites and whisk until they form stiff peaks. Then add a tablespoonful of caster sugar and whisk it in, then whisk in another and repeat until you’ve worked in all the sugar. Your meringue will now be looking sumptuously thick and glossy.

Line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

Spoon a little meringue into a piping bag and then pour in a little chocolate. Keep alternating until you’ve filled the bag. Pipe meringues onto the baking sheets about 4-5cm across, taking care to space them well. Keep going until you’ve used all your meringue mixture. Depending on how big your piping bag is, you may need to refill once or twice.

Start by baking the meringues at the top of the roasting oven for 5 minutes and then transfer to the bottom oven for 40-50 minutes. Check every now and again as you don’t want them too crunchy. I think they’re perfect when they’re still a little chewy.

chocolate meringue

Lemon meringue pie

lemon meringue pie

I’ve been meaning to try making a lemon meringue pie for ages now. I thought they were fussy, complicated puddings to make, but I finally got around to it last weekend and it turned out to be so much easier than I was expecting.

I used a recipe from master baker Dan Lepard, and it was indeed as simple as he promised. The pastry is perfectly light and crisp, while the meringue is soft, fluffy and marshmallow-like. I made one slight change and that was to add some lime juice to the proceedings. I like a lot of contrast in my lemon meringue pie. The meringue has to be verging on sickeningly sweet and so that must be counteracted with a really tangy sharp citrus. I like super tangy. Lime as well as lemon is perfect for that.

The pie went down well with the whole family, particularly Jessie who isn’t generally much of a pudding girl. She came back for seconds. And I enjoyed the leftovers for breakfast on Easter Monday – ever so decadent.

NB instructions for Aga cooks are at the end of the recipe.

lemon meringue pie

Lemon meringue pie

For the pastry

125g plain flour
½ tsp salt
25g icing sugar
75g butter
1 egg yolk
2 tsp cold water

For the lemon filling

100ml lemon juice
100ml lime juice
50ml orange juice
150g caster sugar
25g cornflour
3 egg yolks
25g butter

For the meringue

4 egg whites
125g caster sugar

To make the pastry, put the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Chop the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour. Mix in the egg yolk and water to form a soft paste. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Dan Lepard says to take a 20cm round deep tart case with a removable base but I used a cake tin. Grease your tart case or cake tin. Roll out the dough fairly thinly and line the tin’s base and sides. Press gently into the sides, trim the edges and then chill for another half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 170C or Gas Mark 3.

Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and weigh down with baking beans. Bake the pastry case for 20 to 25 minutes. Then remove the paper and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the pastry is dry and golden. Leave to cool.

To make the filling, place the lemon, lime and orange juices in a saucepan with the sugar, cornflour and egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Place over a low heat and add the butter. Keep stirring while it comes to the boil. Pour the filling into the tart case, leaving a slight gap at the top. Leave to cool completely.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites in large bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoonful at a time, beating in well before the next lot of sugar goes in. You should end up with a thick and glossy  meringue.

Spoon the meringue on top of the lemon tart. With the oven still set to 170C or Gas Mark 3, bake for roughly 25 minutes until golden and the meringue has set but is still soft. Leave to cool before serving.

Aga instructions

If you’re using a two-door Aga like me, bake the pastry case on the floor of the roasting oven for 10 to 15 minutes, before removing the beads and baking for a further 5 minutes or so until the pastry is golden.

To cook the full pie, start it off in the middle of the roasting oven for about four minutes until the meringue turns a light brown. Then carefully move down to the top of the simmering oven for another 20 minutes until the meringue is set.

lemon meringue pie

If you liked this, you might also like to try:

Strawberry, rhubarb and lemon tart
Strawberry, rhubarb and lemon tart
Blackberry and cardamom pavlova
Blackberry and cardamom pavlova
Peach pie
Peach pie

Festive mess with mulled wine berries

 

The aroma of mulled wine is so evocative of Christmas. When I was thinking of ideas for a festive pud recently, it occurred to me that mulled wine would be the perfect way to transform an otherwise rather summery dessert into something a little more Christmassy.

Eton mess does really have summer written all over it, doesn’t it? Usually a mixture of strawberries, cream and pieces of meringue, it  has traditionally been served at Eton College’s annual cricket game against Harrow since the 19th century.

In this version I have used a mixture of frozen ‘winter berries’ from the supermarket – in this case blackberries, blackcurrants, cherries and grapes – and cooked them gently in a thick mulled wine syrup before combining with the cream and homemade meringue, flavoured with a little ginger. Take it from me, it tastes and smells divine. I was a little worried it might be a bit ‘grown up’ for my two daughters but they both chomped their way through it gleefully, and the oldest even had seconds.

Festive mess with mulled wine berries

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
1tsp corn flour
1tsp ground ginger
½tsp vanilla extract

NB This recipe makes about double the amount of meringue you’ll need for the dish, but I’m sure you’ll find another way to use up the leftover!

For the mulled red wine berries:

150ml red wine
½ stick cinnamon
5 cloves
zest of 1 orange
100g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
300g frozen mixed winter berries

250g whipping cream
2tbsp icing sugar

First of all, make the meringue. If you don’t have an Aga, preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time, and finally whisk in the corn flour, ground ginger and vanilla. Lay a sheet of silicone paper on a baking tray and spread the meringue mixture out onto the sheet to create a large rectangle.

If you have an Aga, put the baking tray on the floor of the roasting oven for three to four minutes, until the meringue is ever so slightly coloured. Then move down to the floor of the simmering oven for about an hour until the meringue is firm on the outside but gooey in the middle.

If you’re using a conventional oven, bake for an hour and then turn the oven off. Open the door halfway and allow the meringue to cool to remove to room temperature before removing.

Now it’s time to move on to the mulled wine syrup.

Pour the wine into a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, orange, sugar and nutmeg and stir well. Allow to simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes until the wine has reduced a little and has more of a sticky syrup consistency. The smell in your kitchen by now will be amazing!

Next add in the frozen fruit, stirring gently, and cook on a low heat until the fruit has defrosted and cooked down a little. But don’t cook so long it turns into a mush; it’s good to have some texture and bite in the fruit. Once the fruit is cooked, leave to one side to cool.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and gently stir in the icing sugar.

When the mulled wine berries have cooled, stir these into the whipped cream (reserving a little of the syrup), along with broken pieces of meringue. Serve immediately and finish off with a little drizzle of the mulled wine syrup. Enjoy your delicious bowlful of festive cheer!

Blackberry and cardamom pavlova

I’m spending much less time in the kitchen these days. At the beginning of September I started working in-house four days a week covering someone’s maternity leave, which means evening meals need to be quick and easy as I really don’t want to be slaving over a hot stove for hours when I get home.

So more leisurely, experimental cooking has been relegated to the weekends for now. It’s tricky though, as obviously weekends are also now my main family time. However, this beautiful blackberry and cardamom pavlova was the perfect way to bring family and cooking time together.

We all spent a splendid Sunday afternoon traipsing over the fields near our home in Somerset, hunting for blackberries and sloes (they’re still sat in the fridge waiting to be added to gin) and trying not to get stung as inevitably the plumpest, juiciest berries are always the ones obscured behind a clump of nettles. When Jess and Mia tired of picking blackberries, they ran around pretending to be galloping horses while Jason and I finished the job.

Normally the first thing I make with blackberries would be a blackberry and apple crumble. But since we only had a disappointing six apples off our tree this year I decided to try something new. I’ve been meaning to have a go at making meringue for ages – I know how embarrassing is that, a food blogger who’s never baked a meringue? Particularly because we have an Aga and as all Aga owners will tell you, they are perfect for baking meringues. So the idea of a blackberry pavlova came to mind.

I found a recipe for a blackberry cardamom pavlova from Adventures in Cooking and came up with my own a slightly simplified version. The combination of blackberries and cardamom is absolutely inspired. The spicy, perfumed flavour works incredibly well with the sticky, juicy fruit, cutting through the richness of the cream so the end result doesn’t end up being too heavy. Which of course means it’s absolutely fine to have a second helping.

I was so surprised at just how easy meringues are to make, especially with a little help from Aga Queen, Mary Berry. As with most baking, it’s more about setting aside enough time to do it properly, than about the recipe being all that complicated to make. I baked my meringue the evening before, so all I had to do on Sunday after we’d picked the blackberries was to whip up the cream and make the blackberry sauce.

Blackberry and cardamom pavlova

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
1tsp corn flour
1tsp ground cardamom
½tsp vanilla extract

For the blackberry topping:

450g blackberries
120g sugar
2tbsp honey
juice and zest of half a lemon
½tsp ground cinnamon

For the blackberry and cardamom cream:

300ml whipping cream
60g icing sugar
½tsp ground cardamom
zest of half a lemon
1tbsp blackberry topping (above)
1tsp vanilla extract

Plus another handful of blackberries to garnish

If you don’t have an Aga, preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time, and finally whisk in the corn flour, ground cardamom and vanilla. Lay a sheet of silicone paper on a baking tray and spread the meringue mixture onto the sheet, forming a circular shape. Build up the sides of the circle to create a well in the middle to hold the cream and fruit later.

If you have an Aga, put the baking tray on the floor of the roasting oven for three to four minutes, until the meringue is ever so slightly coloured. Then move down to the floor of the simmering oven for about an hour until the meringue is firm on the outside but gooey in the middle.

If you’re using a conventional oven, bake for an hour and then turn the oven off. Open the door halfway and allow the meringue to cool to remove to room temperature before removing.

To make the blackberry topping, place the berries, sugar and honey in a saucepan over a medium heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Scoop out a large spoonful of blackberries and set aside for later. Continue to simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, zest and cinnamon. Allow to cool before chilling in the fridge.

And then to make the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream, pour the cream into a large bowl and add the icing sugar and cardamom. Whip until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the spoonful of blackberry topping set aside earlier, along with the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.

Place the meringue on a serving plate and pile the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream in the well. Cover this with the blackberry topping and arrange some fresh blackberries around the edge. Serve at once. Enjoy!

PS Tomorrow I’m off to the MAD Blog Awards ceremony in London. I’m a finalist in the MADs Best Food Blog category and I’m really rather excited. I don’t have a chance of winning as I’m up against some splendid food bloggers who’ve been doing this much longer than me, but I’m just so chuffed at making the finals. If you voted for me – then thank you! And I’ll let you know next week how I got on…