Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

After making the long drive to and from Boston a couple weeks back, I promised myself I would take a short break from road trips. But it turned out to be one of those broken promises. Although unlike most broken promises, this fell into the category of a good one. And like the trip out east, this one too felt like a whirlwind. This time the destination was Cincinnati, aka the 'to be or not to be' city where my favorite niece would embark on her post-college professional life. As she was spending most of the first day meeting with her 'to be or not to be' future team members, I wandered the streets of Cincinnati for three hours with my camera, wearing the wrong shoes, and without a map. If there is ever a way to get a real feel for a new place it would be to explore it on foot and rely on asking for directions rather than on the Google Map App. Whether or not it was my lucky day or not, I never got or felt lost, discovered some of the city's architectural treasures, found a Graeter's Ice Cream shop, and met some really kind, helpful people along the way. From my perspective, I loved everything about this city. But then again I was looking at it through a different lens than my niece. While going on a morning run, this time holding a three mile course map in my hand, I wondered if she would be able to see just some of the beauty and potential I felt this place held. Easy for me to think this was going to be a no-brainer decision for her. But then again, I had to remind myself my lens was very different than that of this new college graduate.

As I walked through a bookstore I came across a plate inscribed with the words "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsch). How true I thought. Making those life decisions pushing us outside of our comfort zone are sometimes, but not always easy ones. As we were driving back, I could see my favorite niece was at the edge of her comfort zone place. I would have been blind not to. However in my heart, I knew she was much stronger, more resilient, more resourceful than she believed. And how did could I possibly be so certain of this? Well, as her aunt, she has, for better or worse, some of my DNA.

While making a career life decision and tackling a new recipe aren't exactly on the same equal playing field, there are some common threads between them. The unknown outcome and a bit of skepticism are two of them. As enticing as Ottolenghi's Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing recipe was, I wasn't sure about the taste and texture of a cake made olive oil instead of butter or even vegetable oil. Up to this point, I had dismissed making any cake having olive oil as one of its' ingredients. Why? Because I couldn't wrap my head around it having both savory and sweet uses. It was one of those unknowns holding me back from even trying it.

So I had a choice. Speculate the outcome or make it to actually discover the outcome. Since nothing good or even great comes from speculation alone, the choice was clear. Make the cake. After reading the reviews of others who had made (and loved) Ottolenghi's cake, I decided there were some minor adjustments necessary to increase my chances of getting the best possible olive oil cake outcome.

The recipe in the US version of the Ottolenghi cookbook called for the use of three large Granny Smith apples. It seems the European version may have called for the use of Bramley apples. Apparently its' one of the favorite baking apples across the pond but not available here in the US. Spoiler Alert: I loved the taste and texture of the Granny Smith apples in this cake, but would consider using Braeburn apples the next time I make it as its' flavor and texture profile is closer to the Bramley apple than the Granny Smith apple is.

Given the choice between measuring and weighing my ingredients, I have come to fully embrace the weighing approach. It makes a difference.

Once the sifted dry ingredients are mixed in, the batter will be very thick. Or thicker than most other cake batters. In addition to the diced apples, some lemon zest is also in this cake. Don't be tempted to leave out the lemon zest as it adds a very subtle, complimentary flavor to the cake.

Four eggs are used in this recipe. Two whole eggs are mixed in with the batter while two egg whites (whipped to a soft meringue consistency) are carefully folded in at the end (in two additions). Note: Over-folding in the egg whites will adversely affect their impact on the cake's final baked texture.

Baking time as well as the interior/exterior textures were two of the issues raised by others who had previously made this cake.The original recipe called for the use of a single 8" springform with a baking time of 90 minutes in a preheated 325 degrees (F) oven. Separating the batter into two 8" cake pans and reducing the baking time to 30-35 minutes resulted in two perfectly baked, evenly moist layers. 

The aroma of these cakes baking in the oven was nearly intoxicating. After allowing the baked cakes to cool for 20 minutes, they were removed from their pans and transferred to wire racks. Once fully cooled to room temperature,  the cakes were wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. While this isn't a necessary step to the process, allowing the cakes to rest helps to deepen, mature their flavor. Could I have frosted and immediately served the cooled, not refrigerated overnight cakes? Yes, I could have. And so could you. However, I really liked the idea of baking the cakes one day and icing them the next.

The Maple Icing is really a cream cheese frosting made with butter, light brown sugar (or light muscovado sugar) and maple syrup. While not an overly sweet icing, it paired perfectly with the dense, moist cake. The recipe below reflects ingredients for a double batch of the Maple Icing. Trust me when I tell you not to cut the recipe in half. Seriously, a double batch of the icing makes for the perfect cake to icing ratio. 

If there was ever a cake worthy of being served at breakfast, brunch, dinner or for any celebratory occasion, this Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing qualifies. 

I am happy to tell you my trepidation over cakes made with olive oil has been replaced with (aka a lens shift) confidence and fearlessness. One bite of this Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing instantly converted me into appreciating the complexity, richness, and flavor olive oil brings to a cake. If by chance you think of apple cakes as fall or winter confections, I encourage you to see this as a four season cake. In other words, don't wait months to make it the first time. 

It looks my road trip days to Cincinnati are not over. Only the next time I travel there, I will have my own personal tour guide.

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing (slight changes to the Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing recipe in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

Heaping 1/2 cup (80 g) golden raisins
4 Tablespoons water
2 1/4 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup olive oil (recommend a high quality extra-virgin)
3/4 cup (160 g) superfine or caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla or vanilla bean paste (or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
3 large Granny Smith or Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/8" (1 cm) dice
Grated zest of one lemon
2 large egg whites 

14 Tablespoons (200 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 g) lightly packed light brown sugar (or light muscovado sugar)
Scant 12 Tablespoons good quality maple syrup
16 ounces (440 g) cream cheese, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Prepare two 8" cake pans, line with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place raisins and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat until all of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat, transfer to a small bowl and allow to cool.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until they come together.
5. Gradually add the eggs. Note: The mixture will be smooth and slightly thick.
6. Add the apples, raisins and lemon zest. Mix until combined. 
7. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients. Note: Batter will be very thick.
8. Whisk egg whites, either by hand or with a hand mixer, until they have a soft meringue consistency. In two additions, fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Try to maintain as much air as possible.
9. Divide batter equally between the two cake pans and level with an off-set spatula. Note: Weighing the pans helps to ensure their evenness.
10. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan until cool enough to be removed.
11. Allow the cakes to completely cool. Can wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 2 days.

Icing and Assembly
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and airy.
2. Add the cream cheese and beat until the icing is completely smooth. Note: Can chill icing for approximately 20 minutes in the refrigerator to make it easier to ice the cake.
3. Place one of the cold/chilled cakes on a cake plate or platter. Spread half of the icing on the cake.
4. Invert the second layer and place on top. Spread with remaining icing. Serve immediately.
5. Store cake covered in the refrigerator. Flavors mature over the course of several days.

Notes: (1) Recommend weighing ingredients versus using measuring cups. (2) The ingredients for the icing have been doubled. If halving the recipe, ice between the layers of the cakes and finish the cake with a dusting of confectionary sugar. (3) The original recipe calls for baking the cake in one 8" springform pan for 90 minutes. The use of two 8" cake pans and baking for 30-35 minutes is strongly recommended. (4) You can bake and ice the cake the same day as you serve it. However, for a more deeply flavored cake, make the cake at least one or two days before icing and serving.

Cincinnati, Ohio. The Roebling Suspension Bridge and an archway in a city park. (June 2017) 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars

The long awaited new season of "House of Cards" came out on Netflix this week. Initially I had planned on binge watching it, but after viewing the trailer I am not certain I could handle the intensity of the full season of this slightly surreal political drama all at once. So I am going to attempt to pace myself and try making the the thirteen chapters last at least a month. If for some reason you have never watched or gotten into "House of Cards" you should. It's so crazy good. And in full disclosure, watching it may even drive you a bit mad. But shouldn't really great television have an impact on our thinking or even cause us to have an emotional reaction to the characters or the content? My definition of great television explains why I also find shows like "This is Us", "Homeland", "Breaking Bad", and "Game of Thrones"so compelling. As much as I am not a fan of a long hiatus between the seasons of some of my favorite shows (waiting is not one of my virtues), having a short reprieve from their heart racing intensity is probably a good thing. While genuinely well intentioned, I will let you know whether or not I ultimately succumbed to binge watching "House of Cards". Wonder what the odds in Vegas would be on this.

Clearly having chocolate and Oreo cookies in the house is dangerous as having access to a full season of television series all at once. And yes, for someone who much prefers home-baked cookies over store-bought ones, it might seem a little strange to you that I would bring Oreo cookies into the house. Although it's not strange for me at all. For as long as I can remember, I have had a weakness for this chocolate cookie with white filing confection. They are one of my guilty pleasures. Years back when Double Stuffs came out on the market I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Bring me a package of Double Stuff Oreos and I would go to the end of the earth for you. At least once.

Combining chocolate and Oreos together isn't exactly anything new. Chopping Oreos by hand, mixing them into melted chocolate, sprinkling them with sea salt, and then cutting them into bars may only be a slightly nuanced version of a Sea Salted Chocolate Covered Oreo. Eating an Oreo cookie dipped in chocolate feels like you are eating a cookie. However, eating a bar made of chocolate and chopped Oreos feels like you are eating a candy bar and a cookie without having to choose one over the other. 

I happen to like the taste of milk and dark chocolate blended together, but when you make these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars feel free use one or the other. Or if you don't want to choose, use an equal combination of both. For the past several years I have been melting chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. I may someday go back to it in the microwave, however, I seem to have more success tempering the chocolate and ensuring it has a glossy finish the 'old-fashioned' way. 

The majority of recipes I came across for Oreo Cookie Bars or Bark called for putting the Oreos in a plastic ziplock bag and using a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to 'crush' them. But I wanted these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars to be filled with cookie chunks and pieces, not cookie crumbs. So I coarsely chopped them with a knife. 

After mixing the coarsely chopped cookies into the melted chocolate, I poured the mixture into a parchment paper lined 9"x12"(half-sheet) baking pan as I wanted these bars to have a uniform thickness. Smoothing the top with an offset spatula helped to fully immerse the chunks of cookies into the chocolate. During the summer months when the humidity increases, exposed chunks of or even whole cookies will soften, ultimately spoiling the whole eating experience. If you ever took a bite of a 'soft' Oreo cookie, you know what I mean. Unless you are planning on binging on these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars in one day, keep the chunks of cookie hidden in the chocolate.

Rather than set up the chocolate by first putting it in the refrigerator, I let it sit at room temperature for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Long enough for me to be able to pre-cut it into bars using a sharp knife. Once precut the pan went into the refrigerator for somewhere between 15-20 minutes. Long enough for them to set up a little more, but not too long for the the final cut to be made. After the second and final cut, return the bars back to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to ensure they would be easy to handle when being wrapped.

Did I mention the top of the not yet set Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars were lightly sprinkled with some sea salt and the finely chopped crumbs from just one Oreo Cookie? It's a finishing touch detail taking them from ordinary to extraordinary.

These Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars were wrapped in pieces of parchment paper and tied with baker's string. You have the choice to wrap or not wrap them. But they really do look pretty wrapped. #justsaying

If you are looking to serve an incredibly delicious, not for the faint of chocolate heart, semi-homemade cookie bar to your family and friends, make these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars. Cut them into squares instead of bars for the 'bite-sized' version. In other words, for those who might wan to pace themselves. Either way you decide to cut them, they are bound to quickly disappear. 

Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars

14 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
14 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
22-24 Oreo cookies (regular or Double-Stuff)
Sea Salt

1. Line a 9"x12" baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Coarsely chop 22-23 Oreo cookies with a knife. Set aside. Finely chop 1 Oreo and set aside.
3. Place chocolates in the top of a double boiler or a bowl sitting over a pan filled with about an inch of water. Stir occasionally until chocolates are completely melted. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in the chopped Oreos. 
5. Pour chocolate and Oreo mixture into the prepared pan. Use an offset spatula to smooth out surface as much evenly as possible.
6. Lightly sprinkle top with sea salt and the finely chopped Oreo.
7. Allow the pan to sit at room temperature for approximately 20-30 minutes or until you can begin to cut into bars into 1"x 3" bars with a sharp knife. Note: If the cut doesn't remain, allow to sit slightly longer and recut.
8. Place the pan of partially cut bars in the refrigerator to harden. Approximately 15-20 minutes.
9. Remove from the refrigerator and use a sharp knife to make a final clean cut. Return cut bars to the refrigerator for an additional 20-30 minutes.
10. Remove chilled bars and wrap with parchment paper and baker's string. Serve and enjoy.
11. Store bars in tightly covered container.

Notes: (1) I used regular Oreos, but for bars with a greater amount of Oreo filling in them, use the Oreo Double Stuffs. If you want a Mint Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bar, use the Mint Oreos but omit finishing them with a sprinkling of sea salt. (2) Instead of using both milk and dark chocolate, can use either milk chocolate or dark chocolate only. (3) For slightly thinner bars, spread mixture out onto a large baking sheet. Either cut into bars or break into bark. 

Views of some of the statues and one of the formal gardens at The Mount in Lenox, MA. (May 2017)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mixed Greens Pasta Salad

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer. Depending on where you live or how old you are, there are any number of tell tale signs of its glorious onset. Beaches and public pools officially open whether we are bathing suit ready or not; the population of beach towns swells with the arrival of the summer people; the aroma of food being cooked on outdoor grills permeates the air; piled high on tables at the farmer's markets are a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables; pitchers of fruit filled sangria have a greater presence at gatherings; and, rule followers can freely wear white without fear of the ghosts of former etiquette matrons haunting them. Around here it also means the gardner (aka the person who shall remain nameless) has finished planting all of this season's annuals and herbs into the urns and hanging baskets; the mileage on my bicycle's odometer starts to see dramatic increases; the frequency of my whining escalates in anticipation of my long runs being on the hottest days; some of my favorite recipes (e.g., chocolate covered caramels) go on hiatus until cooler, less humid temperatures return while others return with a vengeance (e.g., blueberry crisp); and, I start to crave salads. And if this year's Memorial Day weekend weather is an omen of some sort, we should be having a wondrous summer here in the midwest. 

As soon as I came across the recipe for the Mixed Greens Salad in the June (2017) issue of Food and Wine I knew I would be making it. Sooner rather than later. Salads with pasta in them, especially ones with cone shaped fluted petal-like frilly edged pastas, are even harder to resist. With fresh asparagus still available at the farmer's market all of the salad making stars were aligned.

If there is one salad you want to be the stand-out at your next summer barbecue or gathering, this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad is a serious contender. Crisp vegetables and al dente campanelle (or gigli) pasta tossed with a creamy, light, tangy, mildly garlicy dressing are the epitome of what a flavorful, satisfying, crave worthy summer salad should be. It's a salad substantial enough to stand up as a main course as well as being the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, steak, fish, and even pizza.

At least in terms of its' size, this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad might be the kind of salad worthy of living up to Elaine's definition of a 'big salad' (click here for a Seinfeld episode clip). Because the recipe makes a really, really BIG salad. Enough to serve at least 10-12 people (as a side) or 6-8 (as a main course).

As far as salads go, this one comes together easily. And in spite the simplicity of the ingredients, it delivers as one seemingly much more complex.

Two cups of peas and a pound of trimmed asparagus cut into 1" or so pieces are blanched in boiling water until tender crisp. Two minutes is all it takes to get them salad ready.

Plunging the quick boiled vegetables into a bowl of ice water will ensure they retain their color vibrancy and crisp-tender texture.

The dressing is made with buttermilk, mayonnaise, champagne vinegar, minced garlic, and some kosher salt and pepper to taste. It can be made as you are assembling the salad or in advance (covered and refrigerated).

For the volume of pasta (original F&W recipe recommended using one pound of cooked pasta) and vegetables, the amount of dressing seemed to be slightly disproportional. While I am not at all suggesting this salad be drenched in dressing, having all of the vegetables lightly coated in it would make for an even more satisfying salad eating experience. So next time, I will make the the entire pound of pasta but initially use only 3/4 of it. If by chance, this reduction is 'too much' and the salad seems cloyingly overdressed, I will add a little bit more of the cooked pasta to get it to the still light, but having a slightly more discernible dressing presence.

The first step in assembling the salad is mixing half of the salad dressing (about 3/4 cup) with the drained, still warm al dente campanelle (or gigli) pasta. Once mixed together, the pasta needs to rest (cool) for about 30 minutes before the asparagus, peas, and remaining dressing are added in. The arugula is folded in to the salad at the end or right before serving. 

Once this 'big' Mixed Greens Pasta Salad is all mixed together, transfer to really big platter and serve. 

I couldn't stop eating this salad. Or rather, I didn't want to. The sweetness of the peas, the slight peppery taste of the arugula, the crunch of the asparagus, the texture of the pasta, and the just right amount of garlic in the dressing put it in the addictive salad category.

Aesthetically this is truly one of the most beautiful salads to ever grace a table. Part of its' visual allure is due to use of campanelle (or gigli) pasta. So whatever you do, I 'pretty please' beg you not to make a pasta substitution for this salad. It would be like wearing white before Memorial Day. You could do it, but it just wouldn't look right. I know what you may be thinking. Some rules are made to be broken or even a bit outdated. However, when it comes to this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad, there really should be a pasta rule. One with penalties for breaking.

If you are looking to change up your salad offerings for your summer gatherings or secretly seek to be the center of attention at the next barbecue, make this 'crazy good' Mixed Greens Pasta Salad. I almost guarantee it will get rave reviews. Don't be surprised if any of your family or friends claiming to have an aversion to peas take a second helping. Odds are it will be destined to make repeat appearances throughout the summer. 

Mixed Greens Pasta Salad (Inspired by the Mixed Greens Salad recipe in Food & Wine, June 2017)
Serves 10-12 as a side dish, Serves 6-8 as a main dish

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 large garlic clove, minced or grated
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
2 cups peas, fresh or frozen (Note: A 10 ounce bag of organic peas yielded two cups.)
3/4 - 1 pound campanelle or gigli pasta, cooked al dente 
4-6 ounces arugula, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped. See Note.
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Note: Dressing can be made several hours or a day ahead.

Salad and Assembly
1. Set up an ice bath in large bowl.
2. Bring a saucepan of water to boiling. Add the peas and asparagus. Cook until crisp tender (approximately 2 minutes). Drain and transfer to ice bath to cool completely. Drain well.
3. Refill saucepan with water and return to a boil. Season water generously with sat. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Toss half (approximately 3/4 cup) of the dressing with the warm pasta. Let cool for 30 minutes.
5. Stir in asparagus, peas and remaining dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Fold in arugula and serve.

Notes: (1) This was a very lightly coated salad. Would recommend using only 3/4 pound of the pasta to ensure all of the pasta and vegetables are evenly coated. (2) While the F&W recipe called for using regular sized arugula, I used an arugula slightly larger than baby, one without heavy stems. Instead of using 1/2 pound of arugula, used only 4 ounces and felt it was more than enough. However, after mixing your salad, add more to your liking. (3) If fresh peas are not available, use large sized frozen organic peas. They worked well. (4) The salad is best enjoyed immediately after fully assembled although it was still genuinely delicious after being chilled in the refrigerator overnight in spite of not having the freshly made creamy dressing finish (but this may have been due to the use of the full pound of pasta).

Memorial Day Weekend in Wilder Park 2017 (Elmhurst, IL)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues

There were a million things I should have been doing this weekend. Packing for my upcoming trip; planning my menu for next week's dinner party; finish reading a book I started eons ago so I can start reading the others piling up; purging my closets of clothes highly unlikely to be ever worn again; making order out of the disorder in one of the storage rooms in the basement; doing some research for recipes on my list to try. In other words, anything other than trying out a new recipe. Without too much hesitation, I decided the best use of my time would be to finally get around making Ottolenghi's Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues. (Spoiler Alert: It was or at least I thought so!) The first time I saw a photo of these beautiful, love at first bite, giant, chalkwhite, glossy confections, I was awestruck. However, the discovery made after tasting them was even better. They were unlike any other meringue I had ever tasted. It was their textural contrast, the crunchy exterior and pillowy interior, that redefined what I thought a meringue really was or could ever be. I was in meringue nirvana.

I couldn't have been happier with my decision to spend time in the kitchen. Because giddy may be the best word to describe how I felt when the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues came out of the oven.

Two kitchen tools are essential to creating a thick, shiny and billowing meringue and ultimately these crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside meringues. Those tools would be: a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and a metric measuring scale. They make what almost seems impossible, possible. You might be able to get away without having a metric scale (although precision in this recipe is rather important), but not without a standing mixer. If by chance you don't have one or other, this confection should more than justify the purchase of one or both of them. Or maybe I should be a little more emphatic and say they most definitely will.

The techniques for making these meringues is different from most other meringue recipes I have come across or tried. But then again no other meringue has looked or tasted like these. To start, the sugar is heated in a 400 degree (F) oven for approximately 8 minutes before slowly added to the slightly beaten, frothy egg whites. While heating the sugar may seem a little unusual, the heat helps to stabilize the egg whites. 

The meringue recipe called for use of superfine sugar. Also known as caster sugar or Baker's Sugar. If you cannot find any of these sugars, you can make your own superfine sugar by processing granulated sugar in a food processor until it has the texture of fine sand (it worked perfectly). Weighing your sugar on a digital scale before putting it in the food processor helps to ensure your sugar measurement remains accurate. If you don't have a scale and are using the measuring cup method, add a couple of extra tablespoons of sugar before processing to account for the reduction in volume.

In his cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbooka Lebanese brand rose water (e.g., Cortas) was recommended. However, I used Nielsen Massey's Rose Water Extract instead. Regardless of which rose water brand used, know that it has a sweet distinctive, but not at all overpowering flavor. One which not everyone may be a fan of. For this reason, I recommend you add only one teaspoon of the rosewater when adding the sugar to the egg whites. Taste your meringue before deciding whether to add the second or even a third teaspoon of the rose water. Alternately, forget using the rose water altogether and use two teaspoons of vanilla. (Hint: If you use a clear vanilla extract, your meringues will be as white as a billowy cloud in the sky.)

As soon as you take the sugar out of the oven, turn the temperature down to 225 degrees (F). To aid in reducing the oven's temperature from 400 degrees (F) to 225 degrees (F), I left my oven door slightly ajar for a couple of minutes. Not sure if this really works to helping bring the oven temperature down, but at least I felt better.

Ottolenghi's recipe called for whisking the egg whites, sugar and rose water on high speed for 10 minutes, or until the meringue is cold. Somewhere around the 6 minute mark I tested the meringue. While it wasn't 'warm', it wasn't quite cold. But it was thick and had the right kind of glossy sheen. Torn between following the meringue master and trusting my instincts, I ended up whisking the meringue for almost 8 minutes before turned almost 'too thick' and lost its' beautiful glossy sheen. Beating the mixture for 8 or 10 minutes is not as important as having your meringue hold it shape when lifted from the bowl and retain a homogenously silky texture. 

The meringues are shaped using two large spoons (think slightly larger than a tablespoon). One spoon to scoop up a large dollop of meringue (think medium sized apple) and another spoon to scoop onto the prepared baking pan. Instead of first placing the meringues in a plate of finely chopped pistachios, I placed them directly on the pan and then sprinkled pistachios over them. Next time, I will be a little more generous with the pistachios.

I used two 12"x18" baking pans lined with parchment paper. Because the meringues almost double in size during the baking process, I recommend putting only six (6) mounds of the meringue on each. 

The meringues bake for approximately two (2) hours. During the baking process rotate your trays, back to front and top to bottom, every thirty minutes to ensure they bake evenly.

To test the meringues for doneness, lift from the pan, gently prod to make sure the outside is completely firm and the center is still a little soft. You might be wondering 'how do I test the center without breaking open one of the beautiful meringues?'. Without the benefit of having x-ray vision, you have to trust the two hour baking time and the constant 225 degrees (F) oven temperature will work its' magic. But if for any reason you have trust issues, go ahead and break one open (but you really shouldn't have to). When the meringues are done, the inside will have a marshmallowy-like texture.

Considering this was the first time I made the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues, I could not have been more thrilled with how they tasted and looked (not yet to the level of Ottolenghi perfection but each one was uniquely beautiful). I cannot wait until you experience their amazing contrast of textures. Crunchy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. 

There are an almost infinite number of variations to these meringues. Instead of using rose water and pistachios, use vanilla and pistachios or vanilla and almonds or hazelnuts. Or use vanilla only and swirl some cooled melted dark chocolate into the meringue mixture and lightly dust with cocoa powder before baking them. Or maybe add some espresso powder (about 1/2 teaspoon) along with the cooled melted dark chocolate into the meringue mixture before baking them. The possibilities are almost endless.

If you are looking for a new, eye-widening, incredibly scrumptious confection to serve to your family and friends, make these Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues. Nothing may be more impressive or show stopping than a cake stand piled high with these blissfully divine meringues. Nothing. 

Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues (inspired by the Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
Makes 12-14 large meringues

3 cups (600 g caster, superfine, or Baker's sugar)
10 1/2 ounces (300 g) free-range egg whites, from about 9 to 10 large eggs
1 -2 teaspoons rose water (or 2 teaspoons vanilla, see Notes below)
1/2 cup (60 g) raw pistachio nuts, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Spread pistachios on a flat plate and set aside.
2. Separate egg whites. (Reserve egg yolks for another use.) Place in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, ensuring the paper comes up the edges of the pan. Spread sugar evenly on baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes or until sugar is hot, over 212 degrees (F). The sugar may begin to dissolve at the edges.
4. While the sugar is in the oven, whisk the egg whites on high speed until the whites begin to froth up (about 1-2 minutes). 
5. After removing the sugar from the oven, reduce the oven temperature down to 225 degrees (F).
6. Carefully and slowly pour the hot sugar into the whisked whites. Add the rose water. Whisk mixture on high speed for up to 10 minutes or until the meringue is cold and looks homogenously silky. At this point, they should keep their shape when you lift a bit from the bowl. Note: Taste the meringue. If you want a more distinctive rose flavor, add a bit more and fold in. 
7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put a small dab of the meringue on the underneath corners of the parchment paper so it sticks firmly to the pan.
8. Have two large spoons (oversized tablespoons) ready. Use one of them to scoop up a big dollop of meringue (the size of a medium-sized apple). Then use the other spoon to scrape it off and place on the baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the top of each meringue with the finely ground pistachios. Repeat to  make more meringues, spacing them well apart on the pan as they will almost double in size in the oven. Note: Alternately place the meringue on the plate of chopped pistachios. Roll the meringue so it is covered with nuts on one side. Gently place the meringue on the prepared baking sheet. 
9. Place in oven and bake for approximately 2 hours. To check for doneness, lift them from the pan and gently prod to make sure the outside is completely firm and the center is still a little soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on baking sheet.
10. The meringues will keep in a dry place, at room temperature, for quite a few days. 

Notes: (1) If using a 12"x18" sized baking tray to bake the meringues, you will need two of them. Put no more than 6 meringues on each tray as they almost double in size during baking. (2) If your oven isn't wide enough to put trays on a single rack, rotate the trays every 30 minutes to ensure even baking. (3) When whisking the egg/sugar mixture, check the consistency and temperature of the mixture starting at 6 minutes. It is important for the meringue to remain shiny and hold its shape when scooped with a spoon. (4) Instead of rose water, consider using vanilla extract. If using the rose water, recommend begin using only 1 teaspoon when whisking the egg/sugar mixture. Taste before adding the additional teaspoon. While I loved the taste of the meringues made with 2 teaspoons of the rose water, some found the flavor too overwhelming. (5) A standing mixer with a whisk attachment is a must for making these meringues. (6) Strongly recommend using a metric scale to measure the ingredients. (7) The recipe makes 12-14 humungous meringues. If you only want or need 6-7 of them, cut the ingredients in half.