Meringues

I come from a family of serious meringue fans, the marriage of whisked egg whites and caster sugar, the crispy meringue shells, dried in the oven overnight and sandwiched with thick cream and topped with fresh berries and the show-stopping Pavlova with its chewy, marshmallow-like center. To make them chewy, we add cornflour and vinegar to the whipped-up sugar and egg whites. My mum makes an epic Pavlova and my Aunty Mary ate nearly a whole one for her eightieth birthday.

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There is an old saying that you need ‘old eggs and a clear day’ to make a good meringue, certainly meringues are best made from older eggs, the runny whites are easier to whisk up, and frozen egg whites work very well so keep them from other recipes such a Sable pastry labelled in the freezer until needed, but allow to thoroughly defrost and reach room temperature before attempting the recipe.

There are several recipes for meringue in a professional kitchen including using super-hot sugar syrup ( Italian or Swiss Meringue ) but you can use one technique and warm your caster sugar on a baking tray in a hot oven, before adding to the egg whites, this helps the sugar dissolve quicker and the finished meringue will shrink less ( ideal for when you are making a Lemon Meringue Pie ). Golden caster sugar will make your finished meringue a darker colour but adds a delicious caramel flavour.

Finally, your meringues don’t have to be picture perfect remember you can just use some more cream to cover up cracks and flaws and if in the worst case just turn them into Eton Mess.

Top Tips

Use scrupulously clean bowls, any grease in the bowl will stop your egg whites properly expanding. Rubbing your bowl with half a cut lemon can help, but make sure you wipe it really dry with kitchen roll afterward.

It is an old habit I have but whenever I am baking I always crack the eggs individually into a small separate bowl. This means if you get a bad egg which happens occasionally you can avoid contaminating the rest of a bake. If a little egg yolk gets into the white, try to remove it with half of the cracked eggshell. If the yolk gets broken and mixed into the white, start again.

Be careful not to over-beat the egg whites. Whisk them until they hold firm peaks when the whisk is removed from the bowl. If you over‑whip them the finished texture will be grainy.

Cooking meringues is a process of trial and error and getting to know your oven. You don’t need a fan just an even heat. I have relatives and friends who have used the warm section of an Aga cooker, a plate warmer and an airing cupboard to dry out their meringues!

Classic Meringue Recipe

The simple ratio to remember is double the weight of sugar to egg whites.

300 gr Caster Sugar ( golden if you prefer a more caramelised flavour and colour )
The whites of 5 free-range Eggs, at room temperature
Half a fresh Lemon

Pre-heat your oven to 200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6, and spread the Caster sugar over an oven tray lined with baking paper and heat in the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, wipe the inside of your mixing bowl with the cut lemon and add the egg whites. Whisk up to a foam, then carefully remove the sugar from the oven and tip a third into the egg whites continuing to mix constantly ( you may need help if you are using a hand mixer ). Add the remaining sugar and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled, and is glossy and will hold its shape.

Turn the oven down to its lowest setting. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper, and spoon the meringue mix on, remember to leave sufficient gaps as they will increase in size as they dry out. Place them into the oven and bake until they are crisp on the outside, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, depending on their size, this could take four to six hours. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in there until it has cooled, then immediately transfer to an air-tight container.

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Stir Up Sunday – Aunty Marys Best Christmas Pudding

‘ Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. ’

These are the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as used on the last Sunday before Advent, the beginning of the Christian Christmas season. The story is as housewives listened to the verse they would be reminded to go home and make the family Christmas Pudding. As many recipes for Christmas Pudding require a period of several weeks for the pudding to mature, I know people who make them for next year’s consumption, this Sunday became an informal time for the family to gather and make up their pudding.

Christmas Pudding 3
As I was growing up, we followed the tradition as my family got together in the kitchen. Everyone took a turn to stir the large bowl of pudding mix and make a special wish for the year ahead. The pudding mix is stirred from East to West in honour of the three wise men and some people add a silver coin, a sixpence, to the pudding mix, finding the coin brings good luck. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas culinary traditions assumed to be another of the many made popular and almost sacrosanct by the Victorians, alongside the Christmas Cards, roast turkey and the decorated tree. In reality, the spiced, fruit pudding was most likely popularised by George I, bring the tradition over from his native Hanover.

Christmas PuddingI love baking at Christmas, the smell of all the warming spices and all the rich delicious cakes and pastries, Gingerbread Houses, Stollen, Pannatone, Mince Pies and the Christmas Pudding. This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits, citrus peel and good soaking in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery how the circle has turned. We used to spend most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in stout. The secret to this pudding is patience, spend plenty of time in preparation, cook slowly and then wait for five weeks, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy.

Aunty Mary’s Christmas Pudding         makes two x 2 pint puddings

350 gr Dried Sultanas
350 gr Dried Raisins
150 gr Candied Mixed Peel
100 gr Dried Apricots, cut into small pieces
100 gr Dried Figs, cut into small pieces
100 gr Glace Cherries, quartered
50g blanched almonds
2 large Bramley Cooking Apples
250 gr Butter, taken straight from the fridge
150 gr Plain flour
150 gr fresh White Breadcrumbs
100 gr Dark Muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Dark Treacle
Juice and zest of two Oranges
1 level teaspoon ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground Allspice

Using a colander wash the sultanas and raisins under the cold tap and drain. Place into a large glass bowl or plastic container with the candied peel, apricots, figs and cherries and pour in the stout. Sore in the fridge overnight stirring a couple of times. Prepare the remaining ingredients as follows; roughly chop the almonds. Zest and juice the oranges into a bowl then peel, core and chop the apples into the same bowl, stirring to stop the apples from browning. Drain the dried fruits in a colander. Whisk the eggs, brandy and black treacle together in a small jug. In a second very large bowl, mix all the flour, sugar, spices and breadcrumbs.

Combine the all of the ingredients apart from the butter and stir well. Holding the butter carefully in its paper, grate a half of it into the bowl, then stir everything together. Repeat with the second half of the butter is grated, then stir for a good couple of minutes. Get all of your family to stir the pudding, and everyone can make a wish. Butter two 1.2 litre/ 2 pint bowls and put a disc of baking paper in the bottom of each then spoon in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double, folded layer of baking paper, with a central pleat to allow the pudding to expand when cooking. Hold in pace with a large rubber band, then tie very tightly with butchers string. Cut off any excess baking paper. Place each bowl on a large sheet of thick baking foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Carefully tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Gently steam the puddings in a double pan for eight hours, topping up with water as necessary. Remove from the pans and leave to completely cool overnight. When cold, discard the foil and baking paper messy wrappings and reseal in fresh baking paper, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

Do you watch The Great British Bake Off?

My daughter Lilly is getting very good at baking in the kitchen she already knows what ingredients are needed to make pancakes and Victoria sponges. Mum, Sue, is a big fan of eating the results, definitely more than she is of making them, but she really comes in to her own with the hit TV program The Great British Bake Off. She is a real fan and is glued to every episode taking on board all of the tips, usually passing them on to me! So in honour of the new season time for my first dessert, this recipe is a perennial favourite at home and in many of the restaurants that I have worked in. It is a little lighter than some of the all date recipes and I like the addition of a little spice, it is a moist, easy to make sponge, using the creaming method. This is the beating of butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, to incorporate lots of air bubbles before adding eggs and folding in flour. The sponge improves in flavour after a couple of days and goes well with a nice vanilla pod ice cream.

Sticky Date and Banana Pudding

Sticky Date and Banana Pudding

Sticky Date and Banana Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce serves 8 – 10

For the pudding

300 gr Unsalted Butter

360 gr Soft Brown Sugar

5 eggs

380 gr Plain Flour

25 gr Baking Powder

3 ripe Bananas, mashed

100 gr Dates, destoned and puréed

2 tablespoons Black Treacle

2 Vanilla Pods

½ tsp powdered Ginger

½ tsp ground Cinnamon

For the sauce

50 gr Unsalted Butter

125 gr light Muscovado Sugar

A small 170 gr tin of Evaporated Milk

6 inch deep side baking tray or 10 small dariole moulds

Soft butter and caster sugar to stop puddings sticking

Preheat your oven to 350 F / 180 C / Gas mark 4 . In a large mixing bowl beat the butter, sugar and treacle together until the mixture is light and creamy in texture. Slice open the vanilla pods and using a small sharp knife scrape out the seeds and add to the bowl. Keep the pods to make vanilla sugar. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together and beat the eggs together in a small bowl. Incorporate the egg a spoon at a time, beating into the creamed butter and sugar. If the mixture looks like splitting and curdling add a little flour. When all of the egg is beaten in fold in the flour using a metal spoon. Finally mix in the mashed banana and date purée.

Butter and sprinkle on caster sugar to coat the bottom and sides of the baking tray or moulds. Spoon in the mixture trying not to dribble on the sides of the tins, then gently tap the bottoms on to the work surface to remove any air bubbles. Place in the oven and cook for ten minutes minutes then turn down the heat to 300 F /150 C / Gas mark 2 and continue to bake for one hour and twenty minutes. Cover with buttered greaseproof paper if necessary to prevent burning. When a skewer can be inserted in the centre of the sponge and it comes out clean remove from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.

Heat the butter in a small heavy bottomed saucepan, over a medium heat, until melted then add the sugar continuously stirring until it is totally dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the evaporated milk. Return to the heat and bring up to the boil to serve. The sauce can be made in advance and store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.