aquafaba meringues (how the internet lied)

I am not one for ‘health foods’ or self-enforced dietary ‘requirements’, I steer clear from trendy health regimes and stick to food that just tastes good. But I recently stumbled across a fad that was just too intriguing to pass by – aquafaba.

I know that it sounds a little like a low-impact form of exercise for senior citizens, but aquafaba is actually the salty, gelatinous brine that chickpeas are stored in. I have often pondered at how to use it; I attempt to be as zero waste as possible and chickpea brine was the one thing that I couldn’t find an appropriate use for. Cue vegan meringues…

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Aquafaba meringues are a great example of why you shouldn’t believe everything that the internet tells you; after scrolling through countless pictures of cute little tarts topped with crisp and egg-free meringue, I thought I was on to a fool proof new dessert. It appears I was wrong.

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First step – drain the liquid off of a can of chickpeas and eat the chickpeas for lunch. Next, whisk the brine until it forms firm peaks, like you would if you were making meringue in an ordinary universe. Surprisingly, it works – and as the liquid plumps up with air bubbles, the salty flavour seemingly evaporates.

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Whisk through ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of baking soda until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is nice an firm. Spoon dollops onto a tray of baking paper and bake for 30 minutes at 140°C. Or so they say…

I opened my oven, hoping to see a tray of crunchy white globes. Instead, I was greeted with this:

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A tray of sticky sugar syrup, amber in colour and bubbling at the surface. I don’t know if I hadn’t beaten the aquafaba long enough, or hadn’t added enough sugar. Maybe it can only be used like Italian meringue, or maybe the internet had lied to me. If anyone can help me with my vegan-induced dilemma, I am all ears!

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peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.

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The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.

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The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.

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I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?

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Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

today i made a cake

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I get this burning desire to bake a cake. And that is what happened today.

I enjoy eating cake as much as the next person, probably more. Even though I am completely adequate at making them myself, my experimentations don’t always work out. I don’t think they even equate to failure, more often I would describe it as a lack of success. Delicious as it was, my latest cake lacked the finesse and technical completion that I was ideally after.

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Oftentimes my cake’s shortcomings occur because of my lack of discipline with my measuring cups, but this time it was a prime example of my ideas not being totally thought through from the get-go. I was trying to get creative with the simple concept of a Victoria sponge cake. Fluffy clouds of sunshine yellow batter cut in half by a thick layer of sweet cream and crimson strawberry jam, elegantly topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. What could be better?! I thought my idea was going to be better; I wanted to replace the layer of cream with a layer of meringue.

I hate cutting a cake in half to add the centre; I brilliantly decided to bake the meringue in between two layers of cake batter and safe myself some time.

Here’s how it played out.

The whole event was a bit of a trial – to begin with I couldn’t find my electric beater. Even though sponge is so light and fluffy when its cooked, the batter is unusually dense and I had a very difficult time incorporating the butter into the sugar and flour with an old-fashioned beater – a task similar to mixing cement with a wooden spoon. I fought back tears and curse words, and gave up at least twice before I was ‘happy’ with the batter. And then I moved on to the meringue with as much positivity as I could muster.

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I love making meringue, even when I have to use a hand-held beater; I love watching the egg whites fluff up and adding the sugar teaspoon by teaspoon makes it seem like there isn’t that much sugar going into it. As I added the final dash of sugar and a whisper of vanilla, a new sense of optimism had been whipped into me. That feeling didn’t last long.

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After smearing the bottom of my cake tin with half of the sponge batter, I topped it with the meringue and dotted it with flecks of blood-red jam. It was at this precise moment, as I stood there admiring the how smooth and plump my meringue layer was, that I put two and two together – I was about to cover my meringue, silky and light, with this thick and heavy cake mix.

Gravity is a thing that we have known about for centuries; what goes up must come down and all that jazz. Like a multi-coloured cocktail, a heavier substance will sink to the bottom of a lighter one. I almost lost it as I watched the top layer of cake getting swallowed up into a pure white sea of sugar. I baked it anyway.

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It was edible, it was delicious, it was not at all what I had wanted to create. The base was light and spongey, bright yellow from all of the egg yolks that I had used and the top was sweet and crunchy. It was kind of like a spongey, jammy version of my meringue cake, funny that!

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Even though the main event was a bit of a fail, each component worked relatively well, here are the recipes I used:
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 cup of diced, slightly warmer than room-temperature butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 egg whites and 1/2 of a cup of sugar made more than enough meringue. Because of the meringue, the cooking time was longer than a usual sponge – 40 minutes at 170°C as opposed to 20 minutes normally.

nostalgia moment: slutty brownie

I know I have been a little bit slack on my ‘Will Write for Food’ posts recently, I haven posted anything since the beginning of Blogging 201 but I am back, with a vengeance, and some nostalgic culinary anecdotes.

“Maybe you didn’t flush meringue down the toilet, but surely you have some stories about food that readers would enjoy.”

Using this statement as a springboard, the ideas that come to mind are endless, some of which are too embarrassing or ridiculous to mention – I want to maintain a certain level of dignity, providing hilarity is important, but dignity is paramount. However, one particular failure stands out above the rest, a failure of quite epic proportions. Everyone who doesn’t currently live under a rock has heard of Slutty Brownie, but for anyone not so familiar, let me enlighten you; a layer of cookie dough, a layer of Oreos and a layer of chocolate brownie. Gooey goodness dripping with naughtiness.

“oh so easy, and more than a little bit filthy”

It sounds rather straightforward, doesn’t it? Rosie uses one box of cookie dough mixture, a couple of boxes of Oreos and a box of brownie batter. All you need to do is add a couple of eggs. A student at the time, I decided to make my own batters – more economic than buying the boxes of mixture, and you know what’s actually going into it. So that’s what I did.

Worst mistake ever.

I don’t know what to blame; the variation in density, the quantities I used, maybe a slight difference in ingredients or just my dumb luck. The air in our tiny flat was dense with  chocolaty aromas and the scent of burning sugar, the minutes ticked by, and with our noses but an inch from the oven’s blackened door, we deemed the brownie done. It seemed like it took hours to cool, when in reality it was really only 15 minutes. I tapped the top, noting the satisfying crunch but because of the layer of cookies inside, I couldn’t get a knife the whole way in to test the baked-ness of the cookie dough.

I held the bottom of the tray steady, Flatmate 1 and 2 slowly guided the outside of the tin down while Flatmate 3 watched in glee and excitement. A look that quickly turned to horror as liquid cookie dough rushed in every direction possible. The result was what I can only describe as the most liberal interpretation of Eton Mess you can imagine, and floors, arms and faces smeared with raw cookie dough. Delicious, yet disastrous. Flatmate 4 did not seem amused when she emerged from her room to four messy grownups eating the mixture straight out of the mixing bowl, licking our spoons with the joy of children who are given pudding before dinner.

I still have never built up the courage to try making Slutty Brownie again, I prefer to keep the three elements separate when possible.

frommage failure

It is official; I have failed. Or at least, I have half failed; one of my wheels of camembert which I had maturing at home has imploded, resulting in a gooey, yellow mess, specks of mould floating in a cloudy sea of old, un-extracted whey. I thought that I had researched, even over-researched the subject of DIY cheese making, but it turns out that I probably made some classic rookie mistakes.

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Below is a collection of tips, of weary words to head to if this is an endeavour you wish to pursue, a list that if I could turn back time I wish I could have followed.

Tip #1: Removing as much of the whey as possible.
Salting the surface in order to extract moisture may not be enough, I recently watched a documentary on cheese making in Brazil (yes, I did watch this by choice) and before salting the cheese, these farmers would place a large, smooth stone on top of each wheel while it was wrapped in the cheese cloth for at least a day in order to squeeze as much liquid out as possible. They were also far more liberal than I was with the salt; the more salt equals more dehydration – a good thing in this situation.

Tip #2: Clean clean clean.
I said in my first cheese post, that it was essential to sterilize everything that touches your cheese so that no ‘bad bacteria’ gets into your cheese. This is for obvious reasons; the wrong sort of mould can lead to your cheese rotting instead of maturing, and certain kinds of bacteria can affect your cheese’s ability to grow mould which in turn can lead to it not maturing as well as it should. What I didn’t particularly do, but should have, was keep everything sterilised all the time; in hindsight, I think it is particularly necessary to clean the inside of your fridge before you start, and regularly during the process – you never know what invisible creatures can be carried on to your cheese but the air.

Tip #3: Walk before you run.
Every website and blog post I read about amateur cheese making specified the necessity of taking it slow when deciding to tackle more complicated cheeses – slow and steady wins the race, so to speak. I, however, thought that I was exempt from this rule, that I could just jump into the hard stuff – I had made ricotta and that had been easy, so why not just try something incredibly difficult as the next step? Don’t. Work your way up to the hard stuff, the natural progression is ricotta, mozzarella, blue vein, and then camembert.

Tip #4: Mould growth.
According to curd-nerd.com, there are many reasons why a camembert might not be growing ma sufficient level of mould. Mine moulded sporadically, rather unevenly, and I was not sure why, or to phased by it. It could be that the environment is too cold, or not enough salt was used (see above), there could have been too much moisture or unwanted mould could have beaten the good bacteria (also see above). I am relatively sure that my camembert didn’t produce enough mould because of the temperature or low salt levels. I know that the moisture levels where quite high, but I am almost certain that they weren’t too high. The refrigerator I used didn’t have a particularly accurate thermometer; the settings are either ‘Mild’, ‘Cold’ or “Really cold’ – not exactly scientific measurements!

Only a little bit discouraged, I am not entirely sure on what my next step is, I still have my second wheel of camembert which is looking like it might be ok – it will be ready in about a week so fingers crossed! Maybe a blue vein, or I might even try my hand at making mozzarella, who knows?!

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