August 10, 2009
Meringue an' Tang
I'm comfortable in my cooking. I must be. I recall years ago scouring through my cookbooks, picking out a recipe, making sure I had all the ingredients even if it meant going down the street for a sprig of rosemary or a stick of cinnamon. I'd re-read the recipe several times to make sure I "got" it, prep away and have all the appropriate cookware in place before I would commence. Honestly, it was like an orchestra about to perform on stage with yours truly being the very nervy conductor.
Ahh I'm chuckling at the absurdity of it all. But then I wonder if that is what I needed to do in order to get to where I am now. Maybe. Maybe that was my destined culinary journey to get comfortable in the kitchen. I look back and cringe at how 'seriously' I took it all. But I love how I am so much more relaxed and easy going now. Not to mention knowledgeable. I ought to know a thing or two because I have practised long enough! I think that definitely contributes to my sense of freedom and risk-taking in 'zee' kitchen.
I had three spare eggs. Beautiful free-range eggs. I had a hankering for lemon butter and so it began. I have been very unhappy with some of the lemon butter recipes I have tried. I feel they haven't explained the procedure well. Nor the ingredients. I get very annoyed when I see a recipe state "the juice of two lemons'. I would rather a measurement please!!! Like say 1/2 a cup or something. Some of our lemons are so big they would pass for grapefruits. Our average lemon is much bigger than a "shopsized" lemon, so how accurate do you think the juice of two lemons is. Ours would surely yield two cups and I am pretty certain the cookbooks don't mean two cups.
I'm not getting worked up; remember I'm relaxed in the kitchen these days. But things like this really annoy me because it is critical to the overall result. After making a few lemon butter recipes recently, following them to a tee, I have still ended up with disasters. The mixture separated. Therefore I am turfing the books. I have decided to "boldly" steer this orchestra without the sheets of music. Yep. I am making it up. Or perhaps what I ought to be saying is, I am drawing on my years of experience. I am challenging myself to see what being in a comfortable, relaxed and confident place in my cooking will bring.
My Lemon Butter
2/3 cup of lemon juice
130gm unsalted butter, cubed
180gm castor sugar
3 egg yolks
Peel the rind from the lemon into long strips. I used a large lemon and peeled most of the rind. If you don't want too much lemon "zing", then only peel a couple of strips of rind.
Place the rind, lemon juice, butter and sugar into a glass or ceramic bowl. Using a heavier bowl offers you more control from the mixture curdling. Bring a saucepan with a 'little' water in it to boil. Of course it depends on the size of your saucepan. You want enough water in there so as not to boil the saucepan dry but it mustn't in any way be too close or touching the bowl. One and a half cups of water was sufficient for my saucepan.
Bring the water to boil. Turn right down to a gentle simmer. Place your bowl with ingredients over the saucepan. Using a wooden spoon stir occasionally till the sugar has dissolved.
Take off the heat; add egg yolks one at a time, whisking each one well as you go.
Return to heat and continue to stir slowly over a very low simmer till mixture has thickened and easily coats the back of the wooden spoon. This requires nuturing so expect to stand and stir for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
Empty the hot water from the saucepan; dry quickly with a clean teatowel. Strain the mixture into the hot saucepan; strain well. Pour immediately into jar. Seal when cooled.
This quantity gave me two small jars. My little pots of lemon butter were gorgeous. The yellow was brilliant, probably as a result of our happy chooks. I was very pleased with the taste too. Vibrant with lots of "tang". If you prefer quite a thick lemon butter then I recommend you mix a little cornflour with some lemon juice and add it towards the end of cooking. I am happy with a looser consistency, so generally I was happy overall. Take a bow!
What does one do with three egg whites? Well my fabulous neighbour Filomena would make biscotti in a jiffy. Hmmm. Not sure my lemon butter would go with that. I haven't made a pavlova or meringue in ages. I remained in cookbook rejection mode and carried on in confidence mode. Let's see how this one turns out.
3 egg whites
a good dash of cream of tartar
almost one cup of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean, glass bowl. Using hand-held electric beaters, beat till the mixture works up into a good froth. Add vanilla extract; beat a little more. Begin adding the sugar and whisking at the same time. I added about a tablespoon to begin with then increased the quantity slowly. Make sure you keep beating the whole time.
Once all the sugar has been added; beat till the mixture looks nice, firm and glossy. My beating time took about 12 minutes. With one minute to go, I added the lemon juice and whisked this right through the mixture. Done.
I took a small baking sheet and lined it with baking paper. I know from past experience pavlovas can be difficult to remove. Especially as they can release moisture from the sugar that hasn't dried out enough. For extra caution, lightly grease the baking paper and sprinkle lightly with some cornflour. This should ensure easier removal.
Spread the meringue mixture over the sheet and using a flat knife level out evenly.
Place into a very low heated oven. No kidding it has to be low. It's tricky for me to know how to explain this one. I didn't use my regular oven, but instead a small grill and convention oven that sits on one of the kitchen benches. I baked it for about two hours on 80degrees celcius. You would have to use your intuition and your oven light to determine how long to bake this. I am guessing in the bigger oven I would bake it at about 110 or 120 degrees celcius for about 1 hour. Approximately. It's your call. Whatever you do, do not open the oven door!
When you feel the meringue has cooked; just leave it in the oven to cool. Don't take it out. You will get less cracks that way.
I did have some liquid seepage from the sugar; but that's fine. It was a lovely colour with a beautiful crispiness. I was very happy.
So here goes the fun bit. I cut up the meringue into equal parts. Spread with some whipped cream, topped with some beautiful strawberries I purchased from the farmer's market, drizzled with lemon butter. Top with some more meringue; continue layering with more cream and lemon butter if desired.
As chance would have it, I was taking photos of this very creation when one of Nikka's friends Kyle happened along. He walked in bemused to find me taking photos of my little meringue delight. The funny part is, Kyle is a "serious" photographer with amibitions of turning professional. He is working towards this goal and I am confident he will make it. He is very good. I only wish he had his gear strapped on him at the time so that I could have had an 'amazing' shot of my meringue. Oh well, I think you get the picture.
After my little shoot, we sat down and ate my lemon butter meringue together and I lost count of the amount of times Kyle used the word "awesome". I think that means its good. Is that clapping I can hear? Time for another bow.