One of the great mysteries of the universe is how meringues came into being. I understand about toast-bread getting burned on the fire-and about stew-throwing vegetables into the cooking pot to bulk up the meat, or simply to avoid having to cook them separately. Custards and sauces make sense too. I can imagine cooks experimenting with milk, eggs and cream or adding flour to a runny sauce to stop it dripping off the plate, but who on earth decided to separate an egg and then whip up the white with sugar and vanilla?
Whoever it was, I am eternally grateful, as meringue is one of my fail safe and most popular desserts. Apart from the classic Pavlova with cream and strawberries, I do one with banana and stem ginger, a plain coffee meringue, one with whisky flavoured cream, another with summer berries and am about to try out a chocolate version. In fact the list of fruit or flavours is vast and it’s fun to experiment.
Once you’ve got the basic technique sorted, it’s easy to cook and if you’re going to be rushed for time, the meringues can be made the day before you want to eat them. They should, no doubt, be kept in an air tight tin overnight but the last meringues I left on their plates in the dining room until they were needed the next day.
“Your meringues are soft and fluffy like your books,” my son teased, narrowly avoiding having the empty plate thrown at his head. I’ll happily take the compliment to my cooking, but he knows full well that the books have a darker side to them. “House of Shadows” is a chilling paranormal tale, “Picking up the Pieces” deals with the serious issues of how women can support themselves as they grow older, while “Shadows on the Grass” is a story of loss and re-invention as Hannah and her daughter come to terms with living in a new country.
All the novels do have touches of humour and lightness too, because I could never write anything that is unremittingly gloomy and even the worst darkness passes.
So to the recipe.
3 medium eggs, separated
6 oz castor sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1tsp vanilla essence
1/2tsp white wine vinegar
300ml whipping cream
Heat oven to 120/110 Fan (Check for gas and Aga) Line two 8in round, 1in deep, cake tins with non-stick baking paper.
Whisk egg whites until so stiff that you can hold the bowl upside down and they don’t fall out.
Whisk in half the sugar. Then vanilla essence, vinegar and cornflour. Whisk in rest of sugar.
Put in tins and bake for 1hr until the surface is pale coffee coloured and the meringues peel easily off the paper.
Cool. Then add whipped cream and fruit of your choice.