Friday, January 6, 2017

A Frothy Challenge for the New Year - Part One

This week's blog post comes to you from the crossroads of two phenomena: 1) watching a cooking show and thinking "I've been making those for years and I don't do that - I wonder if it works;" and 2) having a whole lot of egg whites in the fridge because Christopher made crème brûlée, which only uses yolks.

We were watching "The Great American Baking Show" (which, like so many American shows comes to us as a re-do version of a British show), and one of the contestants mentioned using vinegar and cornstarch to keep the center fluffy in his Pavlova. I've never done that in my meringues (okay, really, pavlovas are meringues with a fancy name), and so I dug around in one of my Nigella Lawson cookbooks (How to Eat) and found her pavlova recipe. It does include cornstarch and vinegar. So I was on my way.
Don't get your hopes up. This post is all about the meringue portion of this stuff - no fruit will be involved.
I pulled the bowl o' egg whites out of the fridge, and realized that I had no idea how to measure a bowl of egg whites.
No, I don't have actual photos of me using a tablespoon to count out 8 tablespoons of egg whites - I'm not that handy with my camera.

Luckily, Google helped me with that:

The next issue I had to face was that... well... 8 tablespoons of egg whites (or of anything, really) doesn't do much to fill a 4.5-quart mixing bowl. Only the tip of the beater actually went into the egg whites when I put it down. But I had faith in chemistry (or maybe physics), and figured that it would work out once I started whipping them.

See how the beater is just barely making a ripple?
A minute or so of "just barely making a ripple" yielded this.
Eventually, they did whip up, and so I got out the rest of the ingredients. I added the super-fine sugar in three parts, and then started beating for the long haul.

And beating...

At least, at this point, the gloss was right, and it was definitely holding its form - albeit a slightly floppier than desired form.
And eventually I decided I had gone far enough, because it had been nearly half an hour and I was bored with it. I knew full well looking into the mixer that the mix had not reached a "stiff and shiny" stage, but I just couldn't deal with it any more.

Putting this here, again, so you can look at the ingredients as we move into the next step and see what I almost did wrong.
So I turned it off, removed the bowl from the mixer, scraped everything down, and sprinkled in the cornstarch, vanilla, and - oh, crap - it was supposed to be white wine vinegar, not just white vinegar. No problem. I reached into the cupboard for the right bottle. But... umm... white wine vinegar shouldn't be "cloudy."

No, that's not a trick of the light in the middle bottle. It had seriously gone "gray."
So... two bottles down, and I was shuffling through the cupboard. I figured that red wine vinegar was definitely out of the question, and I wasn't going to try balsamic (though after the fact, I wonder if chocolate balsamic might have worked) so I went for the rice wine vinegar, figuring it's still acidic, but lighter than straight white vinegar.

On TV, the contestants all put their meringue into piping bags and made lovely round nests into which they added fillings. Since I had no plan to use fillings - and since I had given up and not beaten the meringue to the proper level of stiffness - I went for the "plop it in scoops onto the parchment-lined pan" method. (Which, frankly, is what I usually use.)

Sorry for the sideways photo. It's late, though, and this gives you the idea.
Into the oven they went, and the preheated-to-350 oven was quickly shifted to 300 degrees and they hung out in there for a full hour.

I'm not going to lie. As they were baking, they gave off the faintest vinegar aroma. It was kind of like the smell that's left after you have Fish and Chips and wash your hands, but the vinegar still lingers. Not a bad smell - it's fairly clean, really - but not what you expect when baking something sweet.
Moments like these you're reminded that egg whites can be used as a leavening agent. Just look how those puffed up!
Then - the weirdest part of meringue making - I turned off the oven and left them there until they had cooled all the way down.

I pulled them out this evening after dinner and... well... they looked really good.

But when I cut into the first one there was no "fluffy marshmallow-y middle" like they're apparently supposed to have. Even though that's what the cornstarch and vinegar are supposed to ensure. In fact, they almost seemed drier than usual.

Dry and hollow on the inside - perfect for a cream puff, really, but not what the instructions say for the interior of a pavlova/meringue.
I'm considering three factors in this: 1) the extra ingredients; 2) the recipe is for a single 8- or 9-inch pavlova, and there's a chance that the smaller ones simply bake through faster; and/or 3) the barometric pressure - which was just over 30 inches, and may have caused the issues with the egg whites beating so oddly, as well.

Of course, to truly complete this challenge, I have to do the other side of the equation. So I'm going to also be baking up a batch using the recipe I've had for years. (I had planned to do them all at the same time, but they are supposed to bake at different temperatures, so that wouldn't have worked. And by the time the first batch had fully cooled it was too late to start the second ones.)

Tune in next time and we'll see how they compare!

Have a recipe you'd like me to experiment on? Let me know and I'll see what I can do!

No comments: