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My foolproof top tips for the perfect meringue.

Whenever I would have my massive meringues on display, lots of people would admire them and then proceed to tell me that they can't make meringues to save their lives. Follow my top tips and you will make the perfect meringue every time!



Meringues consist of 2 ingredients - Eggs and Sugar. The ratio I use is 2:1 sugar to egg whites.


Firstly, and most important, is the Egg.

But NOT THE WHOLE EGG!

For meringues you must only use the egg white.



The egg white is the part that contains the protein. Protein is what forms a protective barrier around the air bubble and gives the meringue structure. This structure doesn't like fat, and fat is held in the yolk, so this part that needs to be removed.

This is what is meant by separating the eggs.


None of the egg yolk can get into the egg white or it won't whip up. The fat causes the air bubbles you have created to pop or not form in the first place.

Other forms of fat such as butter or oil, also have the same effect.


There are lots of videos that show you how to separate an egg if you are unsure how to do it. This is my 'how to' video for making meringues.

If you want to skip this bit then you can buy the egg whites already separated and sold in a carton. The only difference is that you will need to weigh out the amount of egg white you need.


The next important ingredient is Sugar.

Sugar helps to strengthen the walls around the bubbles, thus stabilising the foam.

Don't use granulated sugar, the crystals are too big and will take too long to dissolve into the mix, causing you to over whisk the egg whites. Use Caster sugar.

Sugar is added after the foam is formed because if it's added before it will slow the process down and your eggs will take forever to whip up.

Sugar is also there to provide a structure after the foam has been exposed to heat.

Sugar is there to make the egg whites taste batter and help them to go brown when heated!


That's the science bit, now the practice bit.



Tips for success.

  1. Make sure the bowl you are going to make the meringues in is completely free of any oil or grease. Avoid using a plastic bowl as this tends to hold onto fat. Just before you use it you should give it a wash in hot soapy water and then rinse out with cold water to remove the bubbles. Dry the bowl.

  2. Use an electric whisk or free standing mixer with a balloon attachment. The eggs take a lot of time to whisk up using a hand held whisk. Your arm will get very tired before you have gotten anywhere near enough air into it. Then you have to whisk it whilst adding the sugar, so more arm ache.

  3. Make meringues at the end of the day when the oven will not be used and can be left to cool down slowly overnight. This is important because the heat will make them expand but as soon as you open the door, they cool down too quickly and the meringue will crack, probably break.

  4. Heat the sugar up. This is done simply by putting it in a small roasting tin, in the oven for 5 minutes at 200oC. This speeds up the sugar dissolving into the foamed egg whites.


Additional tip.

You have probably read that you add cider or white wine vinegar/lemon juice and cream of tartar to your meringue. I don't. I beat my eggs long enough to ensure the sugar has completely dissolved, and then put them in the oven to dry over night.


Vinegar/Juice will help the protein strands in the egg white to break down more. This helps because if too many broken protein strands rejoin together then they don't form around the air bubbles, and they pop. This helps when the eggs are fresh. Fresher eggs have a stronger protein matrix than an older egg.

Have you noticed that when you break on older egg open there is quite a bit of liquid compared to the fresh egg? That's water. Over time the protein strands that are holding onto the water in the egg, start to unwind and break, releasing this water. If your eggs are old then adding cornflour will help to stabilise the foam because the protein is weaker.


Use these tips and the following recipe anytime you want to make Meringues. It's good for any size of meringue: from small meringue kisses, to a massive pavlovas.





Let me know how you get on.




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Imagine that you have made every cake recipe there is at least a dozen times. Honestly there's nothing new out there. You're so bored with baking but you love baking.

What do you do?

Create your own recipe.

How do you go about creating your own recipe?


Firstly, learn the rules and then break them.

In previous posts I've told you to follow the recipe, and that's true. the first time you make something you should follow the recipe as it's set out, but it's ok to make changes once you know what it's supposed to look like.


I have recreated and changed recipes all of my working life in the food industry. I was a New Product Development Technologist. I would get a request to create a new product based on a gap in the market.

The first thing I did was look at lots of similar recipes to the product I wanted to make.

Then I had to go away and make the product according to the recipes. Exactly as they appeared. A team of people would taste the options and decide whether any of them fit the product profile, or they would suggest changes. I then go and make up a recipe based on the things they liked and didn't like.

There was a lot of tooing and froing until they were happy.

But that's not the end of the story. This recipe is ok in the kitchen but it has to now work on an industrial scale. This recipe had to be scaled up from making 1 product to making thousands or even millions.

This isn't as straight forward as you think. Yes you use a calculator to work out the new quantities, but a factory doesn't have a pan on a stove to brown the meat or fry the onions.

I had to know how the equipment worked and how ingredients react with each other in larger quantities. I had to know what affect it would have if ingredients couldn't be added in the same order as when I made the one product in my kitchen.

I had to know the rules and then figure out a way to make them work in the factory.


Creating a new recipe at home is pretty much the same process.

I'm going to use the example of Manchester Tart. It was a staple pudding in schools when I was a kid. Practically everyone who lives in this area has had it at some point in there life (at least those of us who are a certain age).


Manchester tart is made up of sweet shortcrust pastry, a layer of raspberry jam, a layer of custard, topped with desiccated coconut and a cherry.



I was looking for a new recipe to add to my market menu. I'd made all of the usual suspects - Victoria sponge, Coffee & Walnut, Chocolate cake, but I wanted something that no-one else was selling. I didn't just suddenly think "I know, I'll make Manchester tart into a cake version". I talked to my customers, just random conversations, but Manchester Tart kept coming up when people were reminiscing about things they loved as a kid but you don't see it on the menu any more. Bingo!


I went to the usual sources for recipes : Google, Mary Berry, Delia, Nigella, but I couldn't find a recipe for Manchester Tart Cake. My cake had to contain all of the elements or flavours you get in a Manchester Tart, but be a cake. I am a cake maker not a tart maker, besides, my pastry is rubbish!


Where was the custard part going to come from?



It had to be something I could add to a basic cake batter and taste just like custard. It had to be the same colour too. I knew that I could replace some of the flour in the same way that you do for chocolate cake. The ingredient I used had to be something that wouldn't react with any of the other ingredients in such a way that it completely changes the outcome. Real custard was not an option because I wouldn't be able to keep it chilled whilst selling it. What's the next best way to make custard - Bird's Custard Powder! It's made from cornflour so it could be used to replace the flour that I was going to take out. It was the right flavour and the right colour.

I didn't know how much I should add. If I take too much flour out I will lose the raising agent properties of flour. If I didn't add enough I wouldn't get the flavour and appearance.

I used the recipe for chocolate cake to gauge the initial quantity. I didn't change any of the other ratios needed for a sponge cake and it worked! The resulting sponge smelled and tasted like custard, with the added bonus of being the same colour because of the colour already in the powder.


The next step was to give the cake the same layers as the tart.


The cake was replacing the pastry element. I could have just added a layer of raspberry jam, covered it with desiccated coconut and it would have given me what I was looking for. But I like things to look wow-tastic, not just ok. The other thing I could add was buttercream.


The buttercream had to give the same flavour and colour as the sponge otherwise it would look out of place. I took the standard buttercream recipe and added the same custard powder I had added to the sponge cake. Again I used the same quantities as for chocolate buttercream, and it worked. I had mix the custard powder with milk just like you do when you are making custard at home, to make sure it mixed into the buttercream evenly. the buttercream was just right.


The recipe I have given you is for the resulting Manchester Tart Cake I wanted. My customers loved it and loved telling me it tasted just how they remember Manchester Tart tasting.



The great thing about this cake was that I had something no-one else had. I had developed my own recipe using all of my knowledge about cake ingredients and design techniques.

I knew the rules but I changed them to fit what I wanted.

Sometimes things go wrong and that's ok, just eat the evidence and try again!




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Lemon Curd or Lemon Cheese.



When I was a kid I loved Lemon Cheese. In the town that I lived, in the Northwest of England, that's what we called it.


Now, as an adult, I rarely see Lemon Cheese. It's Lemon Curd.


What is the difference between a lemon curd and lemon cheese? The short answer is nothing! The longer answer is still nothing, but regional variations give rise to different names for the same thing.


Here's the history bit:

When it was first made in the late 19th century, lemon juice and zest were mixed with cream and the resulting mixture was passed through a cloth. The 'curd' was the solids left behind. As this is also the way cheese is made, it was also referred to as 'cheese'. Of course the modern day recipe is nothing like it was then, but the name continued.



Todays Lemon Curd/Cheese is made from a combination of eggs, butter, sugar and of course, lemons. It is called a preserve but legally it isn't because it has too short a shelf life. It's also used as a pie or tart filling.

There are hundreds of different recipes. If you make it yourself you will probably have your own version.


I started making my own when baking programmes kept showing how easy it was, and as a baker, I felt it my baking duty to try it.


This is my version. If you want to skip this bit then Jump to the recipe. This is the link to a video version of the recipe.


Firstly, and most obviously, are the Lemons.



Get the biggest lemons you can find, they will have more juice. If they are waxed then give them a quick dip in some soapy water to remove it. If you skip this part no harm will come to you, and you won't even know the difference, but if you are making it to sell, then you should do this bit.


You will be using the zest and the juice of the lemons.

Use a micrograter to grate the zest. These are specifically designed not to go too far into the skin where the pith, or white bit, of the lemon is. The pith is bitter and will leave an unpleasant back note to your curd.



Sugar.

I use caster sugar because that's what I have close to hand, but you can use granulated if that's all you have. The sugar is going to dissolve into the juice so it's ok to have bigger sugar crystals to begin with.



Eggs.

Make sure they are as fresh as possible and are stamped with The Lion mark. The process of cooking the curd isn't going to fully cook the eggs so you need to be careful with the quality. It's similar to meringues that aren't really cooked, just dried. Also the quality of the eggs will effect the shelf life.


Butter.

Use whichever brand you prefer. It's better to use salted but if you can't then unsalted is fine. I wouldn't advice using margarine unless you have a dairy intolerance, as it changes the taste.


I cook the curd using a Bain Marie. It's just a fancy word for a bowl over a pan of boiling water. It's a slower, gentler way of heating the egg mixture. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't come into contact with the water, it's too hot and the eggs could scramble.



All of the ingredients go into a bowl, set over boiling water, and heated until the butter melts. Stir it and then leave it for 10 minutes. Stir it gently to make sure all of the curd comes into contact with the hot surface to cook. Leave it for another 10 minutes and check it again. it should have thickened up. if it still seems a little runny then leave it for another 10 minutes. It's never going to be as thick as the bought, supermarket version, you may be used to. But it needs to be thick enough not to slide off your toast. It will continue to thicken in the cooling process.


You can take it off the heat now, but be careful not to touch the bowl without oven gloves or a tea towel - it's easy to forget the bowl will be hot.


Sieve the curd over a clean bowl, to remove any lumps of egg and the grated zest, as it should be smooth.

I use old jam jars to store my curd but it's ok to leave in the bowl, covered with clingfilm, if you are using it all straight away.




Sterilise your jam jars by first washing th