If food be the food of love...
When Will penned 'Twelfth Night" he clearly wasn't being served desserts made with the most loving of intentions (just to rip this misquote wildly out of context). Forget about music - to me, food is the medium through which you can gently but firmly pluck at the tenderest of heart strings. And what better way and day to do it than with a precarious tower of effulgent, enormous raspberry meringues on Valentine's?
Tradition between me and my man states that as Valentine's Day is a bit of a rubbish commercial concept, the best way to celebrate it is to bake presents for each other (or something to that effect - as long as it involves sugar and your own handiwork, it's ok). Last year for the event, sadly just before my blog came into being, I made a set of 'Love Buns' much to the tune of Nigella's recipe from Feast. They were visually satisfying, but were all style and no real substance so this time I wanted something which would fulfil both criteria. The idea of the individual portion still appeals when it comes to offerings from the heart, so flicking back through my memory bank of 'good ideas' I remembered The Raspberry Meringue. Konditor and Cook (also known as the finest cake emporium in London) sell these from a big stand, stacked high and billowing. They are the kind of meringue which only seems plausible in dreams - a dissolvingly brittle, cream-coloured carapace housing a thick marshmallowy interior, punctuated by lightly jammy raspberries - achieved only by folding them in to the mixture fresh. The streaks of caramelised raspberries running through the powdery shell are so much more elegant an idea than adding pureed fruit and mixing it through to make a uniformly coloured (and frou frou) meringue, and much more complex to the palate.
The cloudy little babies here are inspired by those but are not the very recipe as such - they are merely one of those curious experiments that result from adapting a similar recipe to fit the idea. The general rule for making standard meringue is 60g of sugar per egg white. In retrospect, they could have done with a longer baking time and smaller raspberry pieces (I threw them in plumply whole). Mine looked very cooked from the outside but they were really gungy on the inside, and the raspberries were softened but not gummily sticky.
Oh, and to those who recoil in horror from such activities because of lack of an electric whisking device, the only power here came from my arm and a regular balloon whisk.
Fresh Raspberry Meringues
(makes 9 very, very large meringues but you can always make smaller ones and shorten the cooking times accordingly)
- 5 large egg whites
- 360g caster sugar
- 125g of raspberries
Preheat your oven to 140°C. Line two baking trays with bake-o-glide if you can get it, or parchment. Take a very large mixing bowl, clean it thoroughly, making sure that it is entirely grease-free (wipe some lemon juice around the bowl if you really want to be obsessively certain). Drop in your separated egg whites and whisk until the mixture peaks softly and holds its shape when pulled upwards with your whisk. Measure out the sugar in a separate bowl and tentatively whisk a tablespoon of it in to the beaten whites. Continue this laboriously slow process until all your sugar is incorporated (and also, unlike me, try not to fling the sugar all over your kitchen with the whisk). The meringue should be pvc-glossy and voluptuous. Slice each raspberry in half or so and add to the white mass. Fold in gently and don't over-mix - you don't want to colour your meringues pink - you just want a rose-tinged marbling.
For each meringue, drop a couple of very large tablespoons in mounds onto the lined trays and then using the end of a teaspoon, pull out little peaks and swirls all over the blobs, to give them texture and interest.
Bake in the oven for an hour at least and then, if you can bear it, break one open to check their progress - this is a matter of personal taste - I like mine chewy on the inside, but you may prefer one that is completely crisp throughout, in which case you will need to let these be for some time more.
If you've done these on bake-o-glide, you can technically, cautiously, lift them off whilst they're still warm. If not, then wait until they're completely cool before you even think about moving them. Once cold, stack them high on a plate, and wait for well-deserved admiration.
Ooh, and if you're wondering what wonderful present I received...