Plan A for this endeavor was to make itty bitty meringue shells with cranberry curd, a curd I had never thought of until I saw this on Supper in Stereo. But if this went exactly as planned it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, now would it?
I have a terrible history with meringue shells, but I figured if I planned ahead for lots of drying time and made them really small for minimal potentially sticky inner area, I might be able to pull them off. I also decided to try Swiss meringue, which is supposed to end up drier than the French meringue I usually make. Here’s a typology of meringue:
- French meringue: the one I’m used to, in which you beat the egg whites a little bit, then add sugar, and just keep beating.
- Swiss meringue: Whisk the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until they get hot – I’ve seen 120F, 130F, and 160F as target temperatures. Use 160F if you’re not going to bake it later, but otherwise I’d stay lower to avoid any risk of coagulation. Then remove from the heat and keep beating until they’re the right stiffness. This takes more sugar than the French way, is more stable, and is said to make a harder product. Among those who know all three ways, it appears to be a favorite.
- Italian meringue: Heat sugar and water to the firm ball stage, drizzle the hot syrup into egg whites that have been whipped to soft peaks. This is widely regarded as an unnecessarily difficult way to make meringue. I secretly think this is the method that’s actually French.
Apple Pie, Patis, & Pate says that the ratio of sugar to egg whites for Swiss meringue is 2:1 by weight. (By volume, several websites say 4 Tbsp per egg white.) A little acid, in the form of cream of tartar or white vinegar, is good for French meringue; I don’t know if Swiss meringue makes that obsolete, but I have some so I’ll give it a shot. I also think cornstarch is a good idea because it absorbs moisture so the meringues don’t come out too sticky. So my recipe ended up like this:
- about 4 egg whites
- twice that weight in sugar (around 240g)
- about 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (they say 1/8 tsp per egg white, so I could have used 1 tsp, but…I didn’t)
- about 2 tsp cornstarch
…well, my whites never got past the soft peak stage. I was shooting for stiff. I was using a handheld electric mixer and the poor motor was hot and I was so tired of mixing that I moved the bowl to where I could sit down and then finally I decided, this just isn’t going to happen. I don’t know if my whites suffered from being frozen (something weird did happen to them that I haven’t seen anyone talk about before, my guess is freezer burn, but I threw that part away) or if I did something else wrong, but that was that. So I piped them from a zip-top bag with a tip cut off onto two parchment-paper lined baking sheets, sprinkled a little powdered sugar on them for extra moisture-insurance (it contains cornstarch) and put them into a 200F oven for two hours.
Although the soft peaks meant they wouldn’t really hold a shape besides flattish blob, they baked beautifully.
They stayed quite white, and they have a completely dry, crispy outside with an inside not unlike marshmallow creme. I baked them a little longer than I would like for myself so that no one would think I was going to get them sick with the soft center, though. Next time I’ll bring them to a safe 160F when I’m heating them in the beginning and then I’ll take them out when they’re still marshmallowy on the inside.
The sight of these was especially cool because this was the day that we got our first heavy snow, and for a Florida girl like me, it was amazing.
Then it was time to make the curd. I was planning on using cranberry juice (I don’t have a food mill so I thought whole ones would be too much trouble), and then on a whim I bought pomegranate juice instead. I substituted that in for lemon juice in my my trusty lemon curd recipe, which I’ll post soon – promise. I held back half the sugar so I could adjust according to how much the pomegranate juice needed. I failed to remember that when you mix eggs, butter, and red liquid (like when I made zabaione one time), you get brown. This brown was so ugly, I couldn’t even squint and see it as burgundy (like I could with the zabaione). Nor did it taste particularly great. So I tossed it. Very sad.
I still wanted some kind of topping, though, so I thought about what could give me a pretty color. Fondant is both yummy and white. So I decided to make cranberry flavored fondant (I went back to cranberry because I was not impressed with the flavor of the pomegranate juice I bought, and I figured cranberry juice would be redder, anyway).
I used Joe Pastry’s recipe for poured fondant:
- 496, so about 500g sugar
- 113 g water
- 85g corn syrup
Heat to soft ball stage (238F). Cool, stir. Mix with 2:1 sugar: water syrup to pour.
Joe Pastry didn’t say whether he meant 2:1 by weight or by volume, and when he wrote about cake syrup (not the same thing, but I was hoping to find out if he tended to use one or the other) he mentioned the same ratio with “by weight” one time and “by volume” another time. Maybe because it doesn’t make that much of a difference. So I chose volume – out of character for me, but I cringe a little whenever I have to put my pot on my scale, even though I know my scale can handle it. He said he used about half a cup of the syrup, so I used half a cup of cranberry juice and a cup of sugar. Assuming I didn’t make a mistake in measuring my cranberry juice, this yielded about a cup of syrup. I poured half a cup into a bowl and let it cool to 110F, then added the fondant. There was no dissolving going on, so I put it on a pot of boiling water. After a few minutes, the part of it that was liquid got above 110F, and I took it off the heat and stirred like crazy. It was harder than making the fondant in the first place! But eventually I got almost all of it “dissolved”. Some little pieces stayed hard, though; I’m guessing those are the little pieces that got the hardest when I was originally making the fondant. Maybe they shouldn’t be saved.
My ruby syrup mixed with the white fondant to make the perfect color for an Easter egg. I knew I’d end up with pink, but I didn’t realize it would be so pink. I hope the male speaker in whose honor I’m making these won’t mind. I dipped the meringues into the fondant, which worked just fine. Then I realized that I had some cranberry syrup left over, and I dipped the already dipped meringues into the syrup to see if I could liven up the flavor and color. It mostly dripped off of the shiny surface of the fondant, though.
I think the color and flavor would have come through better if I had used more cranberry juice – I should have used it in the fondant and in the syrup I mixed with the fondant instead of just in the syrup. But I was so frazzled after going through Plans A through C that I’m just glad I ended up with something edible! They went over well, but my original plan to have a curd would have balanced the sweetness of the meringue better.