One of our sons wed last summer and the other is wedding this, and so my time in Europe has been a training exercise in pastry-avoidance so as to not appear as a chiffon-draped water buffalo at either event.
Now, staring down my failed campaign (not in the avoiding of pastries, that I have done admirably well, but in the avoidance of the said ungulate’s dimensions), and with only 51 days left to go, it seems time to lift the pastry moratorium and give Switzerland’s bakers a run.
I started today by tasting a meringue, on the recommendation of a local Swiss who tells me this country is famous for its meringues. Not in North America, they are not, I wanted to tell her, but as a guest in her lovely country, who am I to mess with its meringue mythology?
Meringues come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the apple-sized powder puff to the pop-in-your-mouth cookie. They are sometimes bowl-shaped to allow for fruit and whipping cream in its cavity – a laudable idea, but one that could blanket the meringue’s real merits, so I opted for the plain cookie version (this is not the soft foamy meringue that tops North America’s lemon meringue pies).
They are a two-ingredient concoction – sugar and powdered egg – but not just any egg, a European egg. What is the difference between a European and a North American egg? Not a thing, as far as I can tell, except that European eggs are unrefrigerated, which may be why my husband is still in bed reeling from the Mother of All Food Poisonings.
Meringues are low in calories – only 100 calories in 25 grams or four pieces in the bag I picked up at the local store. They taste exactly as you might expect from a sugar and egg white combination whipped into a froth and hardened in a slow oven (90 minutes or more at 200 F), that is, they taste like an airy teaspoon of sugar. Inside the exterior sheath that is a white thin crispy layer, their bisque-hued innards have the texture of stiff foam with a slightly yielding spongy centre.
Here’s a recipe and video-guide on baking meringues. This recipe includes cream of tartar and vanilla, but the Swiss version only has the egg whites and fine sugar. It is a fine addition to a dessert dish, but its unlikely it will ever overshadow chocolate as the Swiss export of glory.