What’s your favourite summer dessert?
That's the question BakingMad asked me recently, and invited me to write a post about it.
BakingMad.com have loads of ideas for summer recipes, from cupcakes to take on a picnic, to luxurious cheesecake. Check out the website for more inspiration.
I tend to ignore dessert in the summer – not that we don’t have 'pudding', but there’s so much fantastic fruit around that it’s easy to just bring out a plate of strawberries & raspberries without further embellishment.
If pushed, well, Summer Pudding has to rank as one of the best puddings ever, and is certainly the Husband's all out fave, but it's not quite the right time for that yet. The currants in the garden are still green.
On the other hand, there are Hampshire strawberries around. Strawberries apparently go with black pepper, with balsamic vinegar, with a whole host of things. Call me traditional, though, but I like them with cream. And meringues.
I know a lot of people get the fear from meringue.
I don't want to sound smug, but making meringue doesn't phase me. My mum always had a tin of meringues in the cupboard, and it's never given me much of a problem. On the other hand, chewy and delicious as I like it, my meringue never looks particularly beautiful. If it's for a pavlova, well, cracks are part of the charm, and anyway it'll all be covered in cream and fruit anyway. Individual meringues, well, again, if they are a complete disaster, you can break them up for an Eton mess kind of thing. More cream and fruit. Believe me, no one's going to complain.
So to make this a little more of a challenge, I decided to embrace something that does give me the fear - piping. For too long, I have looked at photos of beautifully piped cupcakes, cakes, petit fours on OPB (Other People's Blogs), and known with certainty that in my hands, a piping bag could only lead to one thing: complete and utter disaster. You only have to look at the mess I made of my hot cross buns, cutting the corner off a freezer bag...
BakingMad sent me a variety of cake decorating paraphenalia, including some Silver Spoon food colouring, and a booklet which included a picture of beautifully striped meringues, and something clicked in my head. "I'm going to have a go at that" I thought. "I'm going to get me some striped meringue" (in my best Southern drawl).
Cue a trip to Hobbycraft and confusion in the cake icing aisle, while Pink roamed the store unchecked, looking for things to spend money on. We exited with some disposable piping bags, 2 nozzles and a 'coupler'. Plus some face paints and a bag of fizzy sweets.
Anyway, back to the meringues. This is my basic recipe, which you can increase or reduce as you like. As I use my trusty Kenwood to make the meringue mix, I'd never make less than 2 egg whites' worth.
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflower (to make chewy meringue)
Whisk the egg white with the salt till stiff but still wet. Add a couple of tablespoons of the sugar, whisk in, then sprinkle on the cornflour and carry on whisking, slowly pouring in the rest of the sugar, till the meringue is looking shiny, and you get stiff peaks.
At this point, you can then make a large meringue for pavlova, or spoon dollops on to baking paper lined baking sheets, and bake the meringues for 1-2 hrs till dry and lift from the paper. Alternatively, just turn off the oven and leave while the oven cools down (just don't forget to take then out before you turn the oven on again).
So if you're not going to dollop with a spoon, you could use a piping bag and pipe out the meringue. And you could colour the mix, to make coloured meringue, or simply (Ha!) paint a line of food colour up your piping bag and Bob (or striped meringue) would be your Uncle.
Well, call it a fluke, but it really worked. I made up my meringue, and took it slowly. I used gel colour for the stripey meringues, and used the Silver Spoon food colourings to make the pink and green meringues. For the stripes, you literally use a brush or a cocktail stick and paint a line of colour up the inside of the piping bag, then spoon in your mixture for piping, and pipe away.
The actual piping itself left something to be desired, certainly I didn't get it right every time, Pink had a go with a few of them, and there's no way I could offer you my 'top tips' for piping meringue, because there's a whole host of talented meringue-pipers out there in internet-land, and I am not about to try and compete - but I managed to get enough of them looking pretty good.
So there you have it. Our favourite summer dessert. Strawberries (& raspberries) with stripy meringue. And cream.