BY NORMAN VAN AKEN, AUTHOR OF NORMAN VAN AKEN’S FLORIDA KITCHEN
The most French expression of meringues in classical gastronomy might be “Ouefs a la Niege.” The translation is “eggs in snow” from the visual look of the marvel. They are also known as “floating islands.” They are made by combining whipped egg whites and sugar and then serving them on a pool of crème anglaise and finished by drizzling them with caramel off the tines of a fork. When we dined at Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris I had a version that was truly mind-bending. The dessert made early inroads to American via the 1957 Hollywood movie Desk Set. Katharine Hepburn’s character Bunny Watson served Spencer Tracy’s character Richard Sumner the floating island dessert.
There are three basic types of meringues. The French is the best known. It employs fine white sugar beaten into egg whites. The Italians create a boiling “sugar syrup” which leads to a much more stable, soft meringue that can be used without so much fear of collapsing. Not to be left out, the Swiss created a meringue all of their own. Ahh, the Swiss! They whisk egg whites over a simmering water bath, a “bain-marie” if you would like to know the technical name, and continue whisking off the heat until the whites are cool. This makes for a marshmallow-like meringue.
It is often then baked and often filled. It has been claimed that meringue was invented in the Swiss village of Meiringen. However, this claim is contested; the Oxford English Dictionary states that the French word is of unknown origin.
Meringue is not very hard to make but you will need a ‘candy thermometer’ to accurately measure the heat of the syrup you will be making first. A blowtorch is handy too…
Makes enough for 1 9-inch pie of your choosing.
For the Meringue
1 Cup white sugar
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
In a saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat until the syrup reaches 243 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar at medium speed in a stand type mixer until soft peaks form. Drizzle in the hot syrup as the machine is working and beat at medium-high speed until just becoming stiff and becoming nicely glossy. Allow about 10 minutes.
Spoon the meringue onto your chosen pie, spreading it and then lifting the meringue to make curls. It is best that the meringue covers the pie base 100% to prevent the meringue from shrinking.
Turn on the broiler or use a blowtorch to (carefully!) ’toast’ the meringue. Serve.
Norman Van Aken is chef-owner of NORMAN’S at The Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando, and 1921 by Norman Van Aken in Mount Dora, Florida. Additionally, he is chef-partner at Three, a fine dining restaurant, and No. 3 Social, a roof deck lounge, in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami. His cooking school, In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken, is also in Wynwood. Van Aken is the only Floridian inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America and was a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee with Jacques Pépin and Wolfgang Puck. He is the author of five cookbooks, including My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories with Justin Van Aken, and a memoir, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken.