I write this sitting in what is currently my office. The coffee is pretty average and it comes in oversized paper cups with green writing…need I say more? I am surrounded by similar souls seeking a strange sort of refuge from whatever, or wherever they really ought to be. My office (i.e. kitchen) at home is a disaster area as I have finally hit the obsessive, no holds barred, cleaning phase of my pregnancy. Nothing and nowhere is clean enough. Armed with good intentions, some exceedingly glamorous rubber gloves gifted to me by a nearest and dearest ( who is actually far too far away), and various ‘green’ (i.e. requires significantly more elbow grease) household cleaning products; I have launched an attack on my little kitchen. Launched being the operative word. I spent nearly two hours scrubbing a perfectly acceptably clean and tidy fridge and it is still nowhere near passing muster. Did I mention my kitchen is chaos? This is, in the main, due to the fact that whilst my hormones appear to be spurring me on to undertake such absurd tasks, my body appears to have lost all stamina. Cupboards have been emptied in preparation for my crazed attack and then abandoned as the enormity of the task ahead dawns.
Well, the chaos is in part due to the enormity of the task, but further compounded by the fact that every twenty minutes I am interrupted by the sounds of drilling and digging, telephones ringing, while at the same time having to zip from depressingly horrible hovel to depressingly horrible smaller hovel in my utterly fruitless search to find my growing family a new home.
Sifting through online ‘Property Porn’ used to be a favourite pastime. In the days when I would hunt out utterly unsuitable but fabulously outrageous potential abodes online with purely fantasized budgets, it was enormous fun. The reality of property search in Singapore is, however, a very different deal. “Kitchen” the agent says as he gesticulates towards a room that has a couple of cupboards hanging by a thread, with no oven, hob or visible white goods apparent. How he knows this is the kitchen is a mystery to me. He has never entered the property before – a fact impossible to deny as he walks around announcing room after room as they become apparent to him in use. Four bedrooms turns out to be two, one with a wardrobe, the other with a strange damp cupboard which houses a fridge…perhaps this is in fact the kitchen and the kitchen should have been announced as bedroom five?
Disheartened and frustrated I return home to my chaos; the entire contents of my larder cupboard adorn the counter top. Tins of chopped tomatoes (my mother would be proud) and bags of flour are piled in readiness for a return to their original home once spring cleaned. Their original home has not been spring cleaned and I am simply further depressed by the fact that I have now caused kitchen chaos and have utterly lost my original drive and determination in the scrubbing department. And…I have no countertop to get anything done. I cry. Nearly.
And then I get cross. I will not be defeated by estate agents, construction noise and raging hormones. I will bake. I will ignore chaos, block out noise and pretend that I have found my family their dream home…possibly something with four actual bedrooms? A kitchen that has a real oven…or dare I pretend two? An ensuite marble bathroom and a terrace? Perhaps somewhere to barbecue and have friends over to gossip around the kitchen table. I am dreaming. I am getting to my happy place…cut me some slack.
I have decided that I need to make meringues, and this is no mean feat in the tropics. I really need to be in my happy place. Meringues seem like the perfect thing to counter the chaos. Perfect little clouds of fat free heaven. I am thinking Cumulonimbus, mind…none of those flat Stratus types that are only good for pavlova bottoms. I want giant fluffy, outrageous clouds…the kind you see in a Somerset summer azure sky, lying in the damp grass with the odd ant trying to crawl up your leg. Oh, and perhaps I will do some dainty little numbers as well. Portability is important –These days I need to be able to eat clouds on the run.
The easiest recipe in the world… honestly.
A Kitchenaid or similar stand mixer
Egg White 50%
Caster Sugar 100%
Optional: flavourings such as rose, lemon, violet or lavender
I am not kidding. It is that simple. The joy of this recipe is that you don’t have to count out egg whites, nor weigh, nor measure them according to a specific amount. Just take whatever you have, weight them and then weigh out double that amount of caster sugar. The only caveat is that if you have much less than 150g of egg white you won’t get very many meringues, but if you are making them as petit fours, or as a little addition to other tea party treats; 100g of egg white (about three) may well suffice. By the way; 300g of egg whites and 600g of sugar is about as much as my Kitcheanid will take, so if you have more you may have to work in batches.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the sugar on parchment paper on an oven tray and warm in the oven for about ten minutes. Do not leave any longer or in will start to melt and caramelise and is then no good.
While the sugar is warming, place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean metal bowl (ideally that of your Kitchenaid or similar) and beat with the whisk attachment until it becomes frothy. When the sugar is piping hot (ten minutes will do – don’t touch it to check!) remove it from the oven. Turn the oven down to 100C.
With the engine running on the mixer, slowly pour the hot sugar onto the eggs, holding onto the edges of the paper and using it as a sort of funnelling tool. Be very careful not to spill the hot sugar – it is agony if you drop it on yourself! Once all the sugar has been incorporated, turn up the mixer to full blast and whisk for a good three minutes or more. The mixture should now be cool, beautifully glossy and stiff (and certainly not moving when you lift the whisk attachment out). Do watch though, if you beat it too much the mixture will split at worst, or at best, weep when baking.
The mixture is robust enough to take a couple of drops of flavouring at this point (with the whisk still running). I add one teaspoon of rose syrup if using 150g of egg white and 300g of sugar. Lemon, lavender or violet syrup also all work well. For an Ottolenghi style, giant flavoured meringue, add rose syrup and then sprinkle with crushed pistachios; or perhaps add a few pinches of cinnamon and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Because you cook it long and low, the nuts or any sugary additions shouldn’t discolour or burn. Cocoa powder just folded in makes a lovely swirly effect, as does adding a few grains of instant coffee to half the mix and then barely stirring the two together.
Spoon or pipe the mixture onto baking parchment lined trays. They don’t need to be too far spaced as they shouldn’t grow very much at all, but do make sure they are not touching. Bake for half an hour at 100C and then turn the oven down to 60C.
I then bake them overnight like this for really dry meringues (best in the tropics as they will keep for a few days in an airtight container and won’t sweat as soon as you bring them to the table). For lovely ‘marshmallowy’ ones in normal climes, or for the brave in the humidity, bake for a couple of hours at 80C and remove as soon as they sound hollow if tapped on the bottom. For true perfection, you will have to sacrifice one and break it open to taste for precise done-ness. ‘Sacrifice’ being perhaps not entirely the correct term.