Although I firmly believe sugar to be the devil, I will occasionally find myself face down in a cake or suchlike. And when I say occasionally, I probably mean more like once a week. Or twice if you count the new ‘tradition’ I’ve invented of sharing an entire tub of Magnum almond ice cream with Bee while watching Antiques Roadshow on Sunday evening. That is how we roll round these parts.
And yesterday, all I had to eat was two slices of homemade sourdough with a couple of eggs and sliced ham topped with herb salt and pickled sliced cucumber, so today, a little sugar is hardly the end of the world. And really, meringues are mainly air, so I count this as breathing.
I first made came up with this recipe on a recent shoot and we eat them with strawberries, a little lemon thyme and a lot of gentle noises, which to the outsider could have sounded pretty rude. Hazelnuts, toasted and sprinkled through and on top of the crisp meringues gently giving way in the mouth to a soft, chewy interior with the sweet and sharp fruitiness of proper balsamic is pretty much the actual best. And it’s so easy to make; as long as your equipment is clean, you can almost let the machines do all the work. And sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with making life a little easier, especially when the result is quicker and better.
3 egg whites
120g icing sugar
60g golden caster sugar
Good quality balsamic vinegar
A handful of chopped hazelnuts
A handful of chopped pistachios
Clean your mixers bowl and whisk thoroughly before you start and just give the inside of the bowl a rub with half a lemon before drying it with kitchen paper. This will ensure there is no grease inside which will make your meringues mewrongs.
Whisk the eggs until they start to form peaks, somewhere between soft and stiff. With the whisk running, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until, incorporating well before adding the next one. You can make more mixture if you like, just remember the simple 60g of sugar per egg white and use a mix of icing and caster as I’ve done, or all caster or all icing. Up to you. Golden caster will give you a more caramel colour and flavour though, so choose wisely.
Whisk until all the sugar is in and the meringue mixture is shiny, smooth and stiff. Heat the oven to 100c/gas 1.
Using a spatula, gently fold in some balsamic vinegar until you have nice ripples through it then shape four beautiful dollops onto a lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle with nuts and bake for about two hours, leaving to cool in the oven.
Serve with coffee, or as I did, because there wasn’t enough sugar going on some melted hazelnut and chocolate sauce. You can make this easily by melting together 2 large teaspoons of gianduja paste (you could use Nutella if you prefer), 1 tsp of honey and 2tsp of butter until smooth. This, however, is entirely optional and may lead to needing a little lie down.