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Mmm, Meringue

By Chef Judi Gallagher –

Meringue. It’s a fun word to say, isn’t it? And even better, it’s a fun thing to eat. Meringue cookies, those cloud-like confections made from whipped egg whites and sugar (and sometimes flavored with an extract), are one of my favorite sweet treats. They’ve become quite popular lately and come in lots of colors. Check out your grocery store’s bakery if you don’t believe me. I always see packages of meringues staring up at me begging me to take one home. And, full disclosure, I often do.

Meringues have been a dessert since about 1706 when a recipe for them first appeared in an English cookbook. French meringues are the most common type of meringue and the ones that I’ll be talking about, but there are also Italian meringues (made with boiling sugar syrup and egg whites) and Swiss meringues (in which egg whites are warmed, whisked until cool and baked).

Here’s the secret to perfect meringues. Because they are so simple to make (and, um, so easy to eat), you want to always use the highest-quality ingredients. Buy the freshest eggs you can get your hands on and then let them sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature to get the greatest volume. If the thought of using raw eggs is a little scary, no problem: simply use meringue powder or dried egg whites.

Keep your baking utensils — beaters, whisks, bowls — immaculately clean, for both your health and your meringues’, because even the slightest swipe of grease can deflate your meringues (and your spirits). I whip my meringues in my KitchenAid mixer using the whisk attachment, and it’s a dream. So simple.

And of course, if you’re using extracts or flavorings of any kind, go for the best. I love Madagascar vanilla and it’s widely available now; almond or coconut extracts are other great meringue flavorings. You can even fold in cocoa powder, nuts or food coloring. The flavoring additions truly, are endless and you should experiment until you find your personal Nirvana.

I like to pipe my meringues into shapes that resemble Hershey’s Kisses using a pastry bag, but yours don’t need to be that fancy because they’ll taste delicious no matter the shape. And if you’re making meringue to top a pie (like that quintessential summer treat, lemon meringue), shape doesn’t matter. Just beat your meringue until it holds soft peaks, spread it atop your pie and bake according to your recipe’s instructions.

If your meringue pies tend to pool caramel colored beads, that simple means your whites were overbeaten. Not to worry, if the pie crust is flaky and the lemon curd is tart, your pie will taste mighty fine.

You’ll find two of my favorite meringue recipes below, but tell me: do you like meringues as much as I do? What’s your favorite way to make and eat them?

Easy Lemon Meringue Pie
One of my favorite memories of my mother Riva was her love of serving a lemon meringue pie to guests. Whenever she was preparing a meal for special friends or future in-laws, she would whip up her pie as an expression of affection. Sure, she used My-ty fine pudding mix but the crust, whether graham cracker or traditional, and meringue peaks were simply luscious. Here is a version in which you can switch key lime juice for the lemon if you prefer.

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 egg yolks
1 (8-inch) prebaked pie shell or crumb crust

Meringue:
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream or tartar
1/4 cup sugar

In medium bowl, combine milk, lemon juice, and zest; blend in egg yolks. Pour into cooled crust. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks from. Gradually beat in the sugar until stiff. Spread over filling; seal to edge of crust. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is golden brown.

Brownie Baked Alaska
(Adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 cup
2 1/2 tablespoons water, plus 1/3 cup
2 tablespoons flavored liqueur, such as rum or orange-flavored liqueur
1 quart strawberry ice cream, slightly softened
1/2 quart chocolate ice cream, slightly softened
1 (9 by 13-inch) pan brownies, baked
4 egg whites, at room temperature

In a small saucepan combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons water and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from the heat and let cool. When the syrup has cooled to room temperature, add enough of the liqueur to bring the volume up to 1/2 cup. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate or place in the freezer until thoroughly chilled.

Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2 to 3-inch overhanging border on all sides. Using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon, spread half of the first ice cream into the bottom of the pan, spreading to fill the corners evenly. The ice cream should fill about 1/3 of the pan. Cut a piece of brownie the same size as the pan and press this firmly onto the top of the ice cream. Using a spoon or pastry brush, drizzle half of the chilled syrup over the brownie. Top this with the sorbet or contrasting ice cream flavor, smoothing to fill in the corners of the pan, then follow with the remaining first flavor ice cream, again smoothing to fill in the pan corners. Top with an additional layer of brownie that has been cut to the same size as the pan, and drizzle with the remaining syrup. Fold the overhanging parchment over the top of the cake and wrap the entire cake pan with plastic wrap.

Transfer to the freezer for at least 4 hours and up to overnight; it is important that this is frozen solid before proceeding. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat until foamy with slightly soft peaks. Turn off the mixer. Combine the remaining 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small heavy saucepan and cook over medium high heat until the syrup registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Begin beating the egg whites again on medium-high. Slowly drizzle the hot syrup carefully down the side of the bowl, being careful not to pour the hot syrup on the beaters or it will splatter. Continue beating the egg whites until a stiff and a glossy meringue is formed and the outside of the mixing bowl is barely warm, about 5 minutes.

Remove the frozen layered ice cream cake from the freezer and place the cake on a rectangular serving platter that has been lined with aluminum foil. Place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch star tip and decoratively cover the entire cake with the meringue. Transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove the cake from the freezer and, using a kitchen torch, brown the meringue lightly all over. Alternately, instead of browning with a torch, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Freeze desserts for 15 minutes after decorating with the meringue, then bake for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the meringue takes on a bit of color. Remove and serve immediately.

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