A few days ago (OK, two weeks ago), I had my whole family over for lunch. My husband’s parents were visiting from the UK so we wanted to have one big family get together. It was in our house, we had a total of 17 people to feed and I have to admit to the fact that I catered the food. I did, however, make the dessert. There really wasn’t much to make, I served strawberries we picked the day before macerated in sugar and Chambord. To go with the strawberries we had cream and the star of the show, meringues.
Now, I know there’s a zillion ways to make meringue but I never knew any of them until fairly recently. My parents made meringue in my presence a few times and I was mesmerized by the process. I still am to some extent. You take egg whites and through the magic of incorporating air into them you make a big white cloud. Add sugar in some form or another and you have meringue! I debated which way of making the meringues I would use for a couple of hours then decided I would use the way I knew best, which was also the quickest. The Cuban way, or at least the way Cubans do it! Cubans like meringue…a lot. As a matter of fact, Cuban cakes are not iced in buttercream but meringue. Think about it, Cuba is a tropical country… buttercream does not stand a chance! I remember buying a ton of these when I was a kid. There was a lady a few streets down that made them and sold 10 for 1 peso. One peso wasn’t much but I guess she made a killing, she always had a line of kids. I’m so glad I rediscovered these, they brought me back to my childhood and many good memories.
This is by far the quickest way (as far as active and cooking times go) to make meringues. The other common way takes 2 hours in the oven to cook but with this method, the oven is optional. I personally like to put them in the oven to get crunchy outside but rest assured the egg whites are fully cooked without having to go in the oven. It isn’t much of a recipe, more like a formula, but here goes any way.
one tbsp plus one cup sugar for every egg white, separated
1/4 cup of water for every cup of sugar
a few lemon juice drops (one or two for every egg white)
Put the water and corresponding cups of sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and insert a candy thermometer. Cook over medium heat until the syrup reaches soft ball stage, 238°F.
In the mean time, in a large mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach soft peak stage. Add the corresponding tablespoons of sugar and beat for a few seconds. Add the sugar syrup to the egg whites and whisk until the streaks from the beater/whisk do not disappear when the whisk is lifted. The meringue will look watery at first but the syrup will soon be incorporated.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the meringue mixture into a piping bag and pipe meringue “kisses” onto the parchment paper. Size and shape are not important. If you do not have a piping bag simply spoon the meringue onto the sheet. Let the meringues dry overnight if you do not want to bake them.
If you decide to bake them, place the meringues in an oven that has been preheated to 250°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until they start to become golden. Do not let them get brown, this means they are burnt. The meringues are ready to use/eat.
Easy peasy right? This is an instance where having a stand mixer REALLY helps. It takes a while for the meringue to reach the right consistency and I pity those who have stand there and hold a hand held mixer…or worse. If you have issues with raw egg whites and salmonella or what have you…rest assured that the egg whites in this meringue are FULLY cooked even if they never go in the oven. The heat from the sugar syrup cooks the egg whites during mixing. This method , especially if you put them in the oven for a little while, produces a meringue that is crunchy outside but nice and soft on the inside.
You don’t have to pipe this meringue, if you work fast you can use it for frosting cakes. Watch out though ,it is SWEET! My favorite way of eating them, after strawberries and cream, is just by themselves. I demolished the ones we kept after the family lunch all by myself. Not terribly Weight Watchers friendly!