All spring we’ve been making these puffy clouds. Cinco de Mayo brought orange and lemon flavors in red and green stripes; Kelly’s bridal shower produced orange and lime in a pretty apricot shade; today a walk through my garden gave me an idea.
Lavender is amazing. Beautiful, fragrant and delightful to cook with. As a member of the mint family it has a refreshingly astringent taste. Each year I gather stems just as the buds are opening and hang them to dry. Then I keep them in airtight containers for cooking. Pretty soft lavender blossoms are pretty sprinkled over cakes; steeped in milk and then strained out for lavender scones and lavender panna cotta. When my children were small we’d make a drink called Lavender and Lime. It was delicious and refreshing for a summer afternoon by the pond. Why not swirl lavender and lime zest into meringue cookies?
This morning as I considered how to describe what makes meringue cookies so special (I confess I had never once chosen them from a cookie tray). Until you sink your teeth…not so, no teeth required… until you press one to your lips you haven’t encountered the beauty of pillows of flavor bursting in your mouth. If we could dine on clouds!Elle snapped this photo at a picnic in the Laurel Highlands.
Don’t be frightened by past meringue failures. Meringue always flopped for me until I finally researched. If you think meringue is difficult this recipe should help.
1. Egg whites room temperature and not fresh from the hen
2. Oven temperatures very low and it takes a long time
3. Best to use metal or glass bowls
4. Even a tiny amount of egg yolk or fat/oil will prevent eggs from whipping properly
5. Don’t do this when it is humid in the house.
If this information discourages you maybe you should not try these – but come now – are you kidding? Think of it as an art experiment.
8. There are three methods of making meringue: Swiss, French and Italian. I encourage you to look this site over http://www.epicureanpiranha.com/2010/meringue-types-techniques/. She has done her homework. I’ve tried them all and they all work as long as you apply the aforementioned 5 rules.
While this recipe uses lavender and lime, you can just as easily make them vanilla bean, orange, lemon, almond; use your imagination and have fun.
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or vinegar
2 tablespoons dried lavender buds
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 vanilla bean, scraped
parchment paper or Silpat
food color gel
small paint brush
Take the lavender buds and sugar and whirl them in a food processor until they are blended and the sugar isn’t completely powdered but fine. Then stir in the lime zest.To the bowl of room temperature egg whites add the cream of tartar/vinegar, vanilla and pinch of salt. With electric mixer beat whites at high speed for about 30-45 seconds until white and foamyContinuing to beat on high speed add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. Beat just until all is incorporated. Following are some photos that will show the stages the meringue goes through until it is ready. It has to be very firm to hold it’s shape through the baking process.
Now how to make those swirls:
Take the assembled pastry bag with the large tip on the end, lay it on the counter and make sure it’s open. If you use a jar, take a tiny paint brush and draw three very thin lines, spaced evenly, up the sides of the bag -starting from down at the base and draw lines to about two inches from the top. If you use a tube of gel it will make a perfect line, no brush needed. Then place the bag carefully inside a sturdy glass or something similar so that you can fill it with meringueCarefully fill the bag with meringue, pushing it gently down to the bottom. Don’t worry if a little of the gel smears, it will still work.Twisting from the top to add pressure and force the meringue out, start making small circles on the silpat or parchment on a cookie sheet. As you make the circle use less pressure as you reach the top and allow it to form a peak.Space them just so the edges don’t touch.
Place them on the middle rack of a preheated to 250 degree oven (for meringues that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter). If you choose to make larger meringues you may want to use a 300 degree oven. Bake them for somewhere between one and two hours, checking to see that they don’t brown. The goal is to cook them very slowly, which allows them to dry thoroughly. It is advisable to then turn the oven to off and let them remain in the oven with the door closed for several more hours or over night. A test when you are checking them is that they don’t feel at all sticky when touched lightly. And beyond that test is that they don’t adhere at all to the parchment or silpat when lifted. When all that is good, turn off the oven and leave them to finish drying. Not doing this will result in gummy or deflated meringues-pillows-clouds