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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boysenberry and peppermint sorbet

How to make ice-cream without an ice-cream maker” is one of my most common Google searches. I love ice-cream, I could eat it every day and often do. Because of its relatively similar content to a glass of milk and a bowl of fresh fruit, I have no objection to eating ice-cream for breakfast. My one problem, something that has haunted me for years, is that I can’t make it myself. I know that they say you can leave a tub of fruit and cream in the freezer and store every 10 minutes for an hour to break up the ice crystals, but I just don’t think it’s the same. You aren’t going to get that smooth, creamy texture not will it be as light and fluffy as anything you can buy. I was stumped.

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As much as I rejoiced when I discovered how to make an ice-cream-esque substitute out of frozen bananas, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one flavour. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an ice-cream machine (or increase my dairy intake by 3000%), but I didn’t have an alternative to satisfy my ubiquitous cravings.

By the grace of god, or by pure accident, I made sorbet and it couldn’t have been easier! You may recall my recent cake catastrophe involving a large quantity of Italian meringue; the silver lining of that puffy raincloud of sugar was the leftover meringue. Not only is it delicious and very tempting to eat by the spoonful, it is also an excellent base to sorbet.

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The hardest part was already done; all I had to do was decide how to flavour it. Peppermint is an interesting and difficult flavour to pair anything with – you want to avoid creating something that tastes like toothpaste, but you don’t have to overpower the fresh, warming sensation of the mint. I opted to boysenberries – they are tart and tangy; a nice compliment to the sweetness of the meringue, but they also possess a freshness of their own that I thought would work alongside the peppermint beautifully.

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For each egg white of meringue, you want at least one cup of fruit puree. Because I had two egg white worth of meringue before I lathered my cake with it, I wanted about two cup’s worth of stinging purple boysenberry gloop – the equivalent of 500grams of frozen boysenberries. I whizzed them up in the food processor and stirred through 120mls of sugar syrup. Done.

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Upon combining the meringue and the berries, I left the tub in the freezer to set and thicken. Unlike ice-cream, it doesn’t really need to be stirred to break the ice crystals – it pays to if you want it nice and smooth, but you can run a spoon through the shiny purple icebergs just before serving and it will still be perfect.

The flavour combination is a match made in heaven; with each mouthful I was greeted with the raw freshness of the fruit, followed by the sweetness of the meringue, rounded out by a lancing hit of the peppermint – a whole meal in a single mouthful. Silky and smooth, dotted with bursts of boysenberry seeds, I was amazed at just how creamy it was, especially because it is actually dairy-free!

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Now that I know just how easy it is to make sorbet, the world is my oyster; I am unstoppable in my quest for ice-cream domination!

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.

let them eat (cup)cake

It’s Queens’ Birthday Weekend in New Zealand this weekend, I always get a slight pang of jealousy knowing that there is a public holiday happening that I don’t get to be a part of. So I decided to celebrate anyway by making these strawberry meringue cupcakes.

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I think that for the French, the concept of a day celebrating the royal family isn’t one they really comprehend, and even if they were to buy into the recently resurrected global phenomenon of ‘Royal Fever’, its still not something they can really do, seeing as the last queen they had was decapitated.

PS I know this isn't actually her..
PS I know this isn’t actually her..

With these cupcakes I decided to celebrate her a little bit too; the batter I used for these cupcakes is rather cakey and dense (yet still moist) – paying homage to Marie Antoinette’s (alleged) quote,

Let them eat cake

Quite note: The fruit used in this recipe can be whatever you want, whatever is in season or whatever you find in a can at the grocery store.

For the cupcake batter, you will need:
-1 ½ cup of flour
-1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder (optional)
-¼ teaspoon of salt
-½ cup of softened butter
-¾ cup of sugar
-½ cup of milk
– 4 egg yolks
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-a handful of strawberries, I used 12 small ones

For the meringue you will need:
-2 eggs whites
-2/3 cup of sugar
-3 tablespoons of strawberry liqueur

If the fruit that you want to use is not in season, use canned fruit- the liqueur can in substituted for the syrup in the can! If you are using fresh fruit, an extra piece can be put on top of the meringue before baking for that nice little touch.

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Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until it forms a thick paste that you would happily sit down and eat. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolks, using just the yolks will give the cupcakes a lovely yellow colour but you can substitute two of the yolks for a whole egg if you want, that way you won’t be left with two spare whites at the end. Mix in the milk followed by the flour, dice the strawberries and mix them through too.

Fill 12 cupcake cases with the batter and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

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While they are baking make your meringue- whisk the egg whites with an electric beater, slowly add the sugar and liqueur until it has formed stiff peaks. I used all four egg whites and baked the left over meringue by itself in their own little cupcake cases, as a way of using them up.

Take the cupcakes out of the oven and pipe or spoon the meringue on top of each cupcake, place them back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 150°C, this will quickly begin to cook the meringue but as the temperature begins to fall they won’t burn.

Remove from the over and leave to cool before removing them from the cupcake tin. Serve warm. Or cold, or place them back in a warm oven for about five minutes before serving to crisp the meringue up a bit and let’s face it, we all love eating warm cupcakes!

If you are celebrating the queen like I am, serve with a pot of tea and club sandwiches.

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Voilà! Those lucky enough to be enjoying the long weekend, enjoy it! Those not so lucky, enjoy the two days anyway, preferably with cupcakes!

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the new pavlova?

Like I said a couple of posts ago, I have recently been playing around with the concept of macarons. Not deconstructing the famed French macaron per say, I am not at all a fan of deconstructed food to say the least! But just adding little subtle touches to a dish which are reminiscent of them. And that is how I came up with my idea of this meringue cake. Since making it, several people have mentioned that they have seen or read articles talking about similar things. In which I was devastated to hear as I feel like my dreams of becoming the next disputed creator; like the inventor credited with creating the Pavlova in homage to ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

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But I digress…

Before I tried this out I was not entirely sure it was going to work. So much so that I waited until there was no one else in the house so I could throw away the ruins if it failed without anyone finding out. But I also told myself it was good to document it, and share it with the world/blogisphere in either case. Because failing is not a bad thing.

Again, digressing.

Start off my making a standard cake batter, I used a half recipe as I didn’t want to go wasting a whole bunch of precious butter and sugar on something that didn’t work. I also thought that it made sense to half the recipe as the cake was one of two components.

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Cream 50grams of butter with 100grams of sugar. Add two egg yolks. I did this in place of using one whole egg, as I was going to need egg whites for the meringue and hate having leftover egg yolks unless I am planning on making carbonara for dinner. Mix in 100grams of flour, a tablespoon of cocoa and 50grams of ground almonds. The almonds add that texture and flavour that is so reminiscent of a chewy macaron.

Add 50mls of milk or cream and mix until combined.

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In a separate bowl, whisk 2 egg whites with 85grams of sugar, a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla. Add the sugar spoonful at a time, just coz.

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One of the main reasons I was sure this was going to fail is due to the whole concept of a meringue. You want it to be light and airy and fluffy, and to achieve this you want to mix it as little as possible. But how do you combine a meringue mixture with cake batter without mixing it? I will tell you…

Firstly, pour the cake batter into a greased cake tin, add the meringue on top and gently fold them together until barely combined. Top with fresh cherries if possible, although I used canned boysenberries and that worked well too. Bake at 160°C for 35minutes.

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If possible, leave the tin in the oven after you have turned it off so the meringue doesn’t crack, but if you can’t wait to eat it, then that is a-ok with me!

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Crisp and crunchy on the top, soft and comforting in the middle, with candied fruit rippling through. This experiment is definitely a winner!

So the moral of the story is: be bold, never be afraid to try new things in the kitchen because they could end up great. And even if they do fail, at least you will have the bowl to lick clean afterwards!

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