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.

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