A Sweet Symbol of London
It was several years ago that I first spent time in London, visiting my sister-in-law. Long weekends there meant staying at the house, enjoying quality family time, cooking and baking together and playing with our nephews and niece. I did however once find myself with a few hours to roam different neighborhoods and discover London on my own. What struck me were the colors – however ironic considering the gray, rainy weather I had. Those fabulous black taxis aside, what I recall are the brightly colored doors and facades of brownstones, streets resembling color swatches in a paint store. Not to mention the fun red double-decker buses, of course. The sweetest memory of them all – pastry shop windows with meringues the size of rugby balls in bold colors like hot pink (recipe below). I tasted a raspberry meringue in Notting Hill, devoured another near the Borough Market, and covered my clothes in crumbs after a chocolate-marbled meringue in Islington. I loved London!
What I now know many years later, is that I had stumbled upon Ottolenghi, the very popular café, restaurant and catering company with locations throughout London. Perhaps they are not most well-known for their meringues, but those beauties are certainly a staple in their attractive displays of prepared foods and sweets. And they also figure in their cookbook, which just made its way into my collection (thanks Georgina!). Despite the many sticky tabs I placed on pages of recipes to make (apple and olive oil cake with maple icing; sour cherry amaretti; granola bars; Khalid’s chocolate and chestnut bars; lemon meringue tartlets…), I knew what I was baking first. (By the way, there are savory recipes in there too!)
I love meringues and have been making them for years and years – variations on size, flavors, fillings, shapes and types of sugar. I dreamed of recreating the enormous meringues I would see in boulangeries and patisseries in Paris, my favorite spot now but a memory on rue du Cherche-Midi. Solid and crisp on the outside, dry and crunchy when broken into, and miraculously moist and chewy on the inside. Perfection. Ottolenghi has got this juxtaposition of textures down pat too. Thankfully they shared their recipe and you can make them at home too. Simply close your eyes and choose where you’d like those meringues to take you… Paris, London or here in my kitchen in Zürich!
Anyone a fan of Ottolenghi in London and/or have their cookbook at home? What’s your favorite recipe?
* Keeping with my usual habit of playing around in the kitchen, I used the Ottolenghi recipe for the technique, which was new to me – Swiss meringue using dark brown muscovado sugar (which is available at Jelmoli and Schwarzenbach here in Zürich). Instead of cinnamon and hazelnut, I used espresso powder and shaved dark chocolate. I also halved the recipe to make 4 large meringues.
Ottolenghi-Style Espresso Chocolate Meringues
3 egg whites (about 100 grams)
2/3 cup (130 grams) white sugar
1/2 cup unpacked (70 grams) dark brown muscovado sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 cup shaved dark chocolate (I used Villars 63%)
Preheat the oven to 110 degrees Celsius (225 degrees Fahrenheit).
Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a light simmer. Place the egg whites and both sugars in a heatproof bowl large enough to sit on top of the pan. Put it over the simmering water, making sure it doesn’t actually touch the water, and leave it there for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally , until the mixture is quite hot (40 degrees Celsuis/100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the sugars have dissolved into the whites.
With a mega-powerful hand mixer, or (preferably) a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the mixture on high speed. 8 minutes with stand mixer, perhaps 10-15 minutes with hand mixer, until the mix has cooled down completely. When ready, it should be firm and glossy and keep its shape when you lift a bit with a spoon.
Sprinkle over espresso powder and shaved chocolate. Gently fold into meringue with a large spatula. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat if you have. Scoop very generous amounts of meringue on to the sheet, with plenty of space between them as they will expand during baking. Round them out or make spiky designs if you’d like. Sprinkle with extra shaved chocolate.
Bake for anything from an hour and a quarter to two hours, depending on the oven and the size of your meringues. They should be nice and dry underneath and still a little soft in the center. When done, they should lift from parchment or Silpat easily. If they resist, let bake longer as they have not completely dried out yet.
PS – If you’d like to know what happens if you don’t whip the meringue enough,… I can tell you from experience. You get flat meringue disks that resemble over-size macarons. The play on textures was still successful, a very crisp shell and a soft, moist, chewy center. Imagine someone flattening the meringues like pancakes while baking. I don’t really recommend this as a final result. But when my hand mixer gave up on me, I couldn’t bring myself to throw away an entire bowl of deliciously sugary meringue batter. Hence the strong recommendation for a stand mixer for this job. Otherwise,… you’ve been warned.