When I look back in time of my childhood, I have to be in awe of Mother and Njanja for all the baking they did, almost on daily basis. I cannot remember a single day that we did not have something sweet to round up our meal and to snack on. I definitely took it for granted and only when I became a mother and faced the demands of the adult world did I realize how fortunate we were growing up.
My children do not enjoy daily doses of pies, cookies, tortes, cakes – not even crepes, the ubiquitous dessert that most of the European children learn to make about the time they start preschool (yes, I am kidding, but crepes are a simple, inexpensive and versatile dessert that can be whipped up in minutes, and as such they are considered ordinary by many of my “paesanos”). That way, when I bake something, anything, they are elated and tremendously happy.
Sure, I have inherited Mother’s hand-written cookbook and Njanja’s painstakingly recorded page after yellowed page of decades-worth of recipes, and one of these days I will embark on a project of preserving the old-fashioned, delicious, and oh-so-time-consuming European dishes of the past. I hate to see them lapse into the oblivion, but I am not ready yet to tackle Njanja’s Dobos Torte or Mother’s Napoleon Torte. My girls know nothing about this idea and that’s for the best. In the meantime, I bake the simplest of desserts, once every couple of weeks, and make a grandstand of it, accepting accolades, praises, and, of course, sweet kisses with feigned modesty.
Our Food Bloggers of LA April meeting was held in the Orange County, at a beautiful house perched on a Tustin hill. Kim of Rustic Garden Bistro was our hostess, and as this was the second spring she and her ever-so-nice husband Barry have kept chickens, it was no surprise that the theme of the get-together was “Egg-stravaganza”.
I planned on making a quiche, a Russian Salad, or maybe an assortment of deviled eggs, but I was ambushed by a few unexpected errands the day before, which left me literally scratching my head as I had to go to work in the early afternoon. I did not completely disregard the teachings of my female ancestors, though: every time I make mayonnaise, I save the egg white and keep it in a plastic bagie in the freezer – as I add more, I just change the number on the bag with my Sharpie.
I promptly excavated a baggie containing three egg whites, placed them in a cup of warm water to defrost, and danced a happy dance in the middle of my 70s kitchen in anticipation of light-as-foam, crispy meringues. They might not have been Mother’s elaborate masterpieces combining several beautiful flavors that sing to your palate in a delicious symphony, but the members of my household, including Pepe, the French poodle, were exctatic.
- 3 large egg whites
- a small pinch of salt
- 1 cup (240 gr) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Place the egg whites and salt in a large, cold metal or glass mixing bowl (if you are using the stand mixer, refrigerate the bowl for 10-15 minutes).
- Whip on high speed until the stiff peaks appear, about 15 minutes.
- Slowly add the sugar until incorporated.
- Mix in the lemon juice and in the end the lemon zest.
- Spoon the meringue into a Ziploc bag (or a pastry bag) fitted with a large star tip.
- Pipe the rosettes (1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter) on top of the parchment paper in the cookie sheets, leaving some space between them as they spread a bit.
- Place the cookie sheets in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 200F (100C).
- Bake (or rather dry) the cookies for 60 minutes until done. (They should stay white).
- Do not open the oven door during the baking process (that might cause the meringues to collapse).
- At this point you can turn the oven off and leave the cookies inside until ready to serve.
The recipe is versatile – you can omit the lemon zest and top each meringue with a quarter of a walnut or a pecan. You can add a bit of cocoa to color it and give it chocolate flavor. You can add chocolate chips or chopped nuts as Judy of Bumbleberry Breeze did. And besides, they are so easy to make that I entrusted my girls to watch them, turn the oven off, and let them dry out while I went to work.