One of the things I loved about Rosemary Conley's hugely successful 'Hip and Thigh Diet' (1988) was that for dessert every night, among other things, you were 'permitted' to have a meringue basket filled with raspberries, strawberries or other berry fruits topped with raspberry yoghurt. Back then, I lost 20 kilograms (!) sticking to Conley's eating plan, and must admit that I looked and felt better than I had for many years. My eyes sparkled, my skin was luminous and I had lots of energy to keep me on the go. That little book was my handbag food bible for a while and, after a winter of ill health, my body tells me that it's time I took it down from the bookshelf again.
Beautiful berries are making an appearance at our local farmers markets, so the time is ripe to put treats such as my simple Eton Mess and meringue nests back onto menu. There's almost no need for a recipe, however, for cooks who have yet to try their hand at making meringues, here we are.
4 free range egg whites (use the freshest eggs at room temperature*)
3/4 cup vanilla-bean infused caster (superfine) sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
fresh mixed berries and cream or yoghurt, to serve
pure icing sugar, to dust over the berries
tiny sprigs of fresh mint, to garnish
*Notes: Delia Smith reminds us that when working with egg whites, the bowl and whisk must be 'scrupulously clean', as small amounts of remnant egg yolk or fat can stop the whites from whipping. It's also worth noting that culinary sleuth, Shirley Corriher, advises in Cookwise that fresh egg whites create a more stable foam when whipped, whereas old whites will whip more quickly and produce a little more volume of foam. And 'the colder the egg whites the longer it will take to beat them to a good foam'.
First, preheat your oven to 150 degrees C and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or baking paper. To make the meringues, place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a bowl. Beat until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla infused caster sugar slowly, just a dessertspoon at a time, and continue to beat until the sugar is thoroughly incorporated. Beat until the mass will slip just a little in the bowl. (Note, I have used vanilla-bean infused raw caster sugar, hence my meringues have a slight brown tinge to them).
For meringue nests, you can pipe the meringue mixture onto the lined baking sheet, or for meringues that will be broken up into Eton Mess, use a large serving spoon to place neat spoonfuls of the mixture onto the tray. Bake for around half an hour at 150 degrees C, then reduce the temperature to 120 degrees C and bake for another 30-45 minutes. Switch off the oven, open the oven door slightly and allow the meringues to dry out (overnight is perfect).
When you are ready to serve, if making meringue nests simply sprinkle the yogurt or whipped cream and the berries into the nests and top with fruit. Or for Eton Mess, crumble the meringues and pile them into a serving dish or glass, top with cream or yoghurt (the cream can be whipped, or simply poured over), then add whole and chopped berries. You can also puree some berries to a sauce if you like a marbled effect. Dust with icing sugar, garnish with mint and serve. This quantity makes a dozen or so meringues.
The process in pictures...
Beautiful berries are starting to appear at our local farmer's markets...
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.