Let me preface this post by saying that I really suck at making meringues. This is mildly embarrassing as I have an aunt whose meringues would put Nigella to shame. So if you’ve landed here in the hopes of finding a fool proof way of making light and airy meringues, then you better move along. These meringues are strictly for fools and were sort of stumbled upon when the very first thing I baked in my new and unknown little toaster oven was a dish that required precision temperatures. Clever. So I was toggling between bake and grill and 210º and 100º to try and reach the magic 120º for the sustained period required when making meringues the way they should be when I thought buggr’it, they’re going in at 150 for half an hour. This is higher than you’d normally bake meringues. The result of a lower temperature is an airier but drier meringue because the whole thing is baked through slowly and the air bubbles are trapped in a permanent state of sugary suspension. Fortunately, I like my meringues a bit on the gooey side when I bite into them. (Which also explains why mine are rather ugly… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that looks are less important than personality anyway.) So the higher, shorter temperature worked a treat to get them golden on the outside but still uncooked enough on the inside that when I opened the door and they cooled down too quickly, the entire lot collapsed into a cracked heap of toasty, marshmallowy goodness.
If I lost you at “toggling”, then I suggest you completely ignore the entire section on meringues below and try Nigella’s cappucino pavlova instead. Needless to say, omit the espresso. The ice cream recipe is a fantastic vanilla standby as, unlike most homemade ice creams, it doesn’t require you to break up ice crystals every now and then like some sort of demented, commando going character from Basic Instinct. Make a batch and then add whatever flavours you want to zhush it up a bit. Here lemon did the trick.
Use 8 individual tart tins or one large one.
For the ice cream
4 large egg yolks (reserve egg whites)
75g Castor sugar
5ml vanilla extract
The juice of three lemons (Before juicing, zest with a fine blade zester and reserve zest. Zest. Zest. Zest. It sounds funnier the more you say it.)
Heat the milk to just before simmering and remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slowly (slowly now, or you’ll be sorted for tomorrow’s scrambled eggs*) pour the milk into the egg mix and whisk quickly as you go. This next part is a bit annoying. Grab a book and take a few deep breaths because yes, it does take a while (fifteen to twenty minutes, but it feels like an hour) but no, you can’t walk away, even for a minute. Return the pot to a low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thin custard. Do not boil*! Stir in the vanilla essence and lemon juice and set aside to cool. In another bowl, whisk the cream till soff peaks form. Slowly fold the custard into the cream, combine well and place in the freezer overnight. As I said, the nice thing about this recipe is that it does not usually require you to break up any ice crystals like you normally have to do if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But just to be sure, check the ice cream in a few hours time and if there are any ice crystals, either whisk before it is fully set or blitz up with a stick blender.
For the candied lemon rind
Lemon zest from three lemons
Half a cup of sugar
Castor sugar for sprinkling
Place the zest and sugar in a pot and add a cup of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the zest is translucent and the mixture is the consistency of thin syrup. Remove the strands of zest and place on a silicone mat to dry, separating them as much as possible. Once cooled and firm, toss in a little castor sugar, cover in cling wrap and set aside.
For the biscuit base
1 packet tennis biscuits, finely crushed
200ml melted butter
Combine the biscuit crumbs and butter and mix well. Press the mixture into the base of your tart tin(s) – the base should be 3 to 4mm thick. Cool in the fridge.
For the meringues
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
Cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 150˚C. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff. Add castor sugar by the spoonful, beating well between additions and adding the essence just before the last two spoonfuls. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat and spray with Spray & Cook. Shape the meringues on the baking sheet so they’re slightly smaller than your tarts – they’ll swell a bit. Alternatively (and the easier option) pipe small meringues. Bake for 30 minutes or so until lightly golden. The meringues will be chewy on the inside. Allow to cool and then lift with a spatula.
Remove the ice cream from the fridge and soften slightly. Spoon ice cream into the tart moulds, pressing down onto the biscuit base and ensuring there are no air bubbles. Smooth the top with the back of a knife and return to the freezer for at least a couple more hours or until you’re ready to serve. To serve, unmould the ice cream and top with the meringues in whichever way you fancy. Serve with the candied lemon zest.