Meringues: Have a white Christmas

Meringues are a perfect store cupboard ingredient which can be overlooked at Christmas time. They’re not traditional festive fare but actually such a great foil for cranberries.

Crisp meringue shells served with thick whipped cream and a bright red dollop of tart cranberry compote are a perfect Christmas pudding: light, festive and a doddle to make.

Meringues also last for ages. They may start to soften eventually, but in a good air-tight container you’ll have no trouble for a good while.

The meringue is said to have been invented by a Swiss pastry cook called Gasparini. Others believe the word meringue is derived from the Polish “marzynka” and that the preparation was invented by a chef in the service of King Stanislas I Leszcyaski, who later became Duke of Lorraine. The King passed on the recipe to his daughter, Marie, who introduced it to the French.

Until the early 19th Century meringues cooked in the oven were shaped with a spoon. The chef Careme was the first to use a piping bag.


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How does it work?

Egg white is able to swell in bulk by the inclusion of air.

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As you beat the egg white, air bubbles are incorporated. The beating causes a change in the protein molecule that surrounds the air bubble. It keeps the water away from the bubbles of air, so protecting them and allowing the foam to last longer.

When a meringue is cooked the water evaporates and the hard shell of egg white remains.

Some ingredients have an effect on egg whites. Acid, in the form of Cream of Tartar, has no effect on the volume of egg whites but improves their stability. Salt helps to break down fresh egg whites which makes them easier to whisk but can weaken the bonding so should not be overused. Sugar improves the stability once in the oven. Fat weakens bonding and should be avoided when whisking egg whites. This is why recipes ask for the yolk to be carefully separated from the white.

Make some of your own meringues this Christmas and enjoy a perfect pudding.

For a festive version of Eton mess use the cranberry compote combined with the whipped cream and crushed meringues in a tall glass. Create layers for maximum effect.

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