What's for starters... (Part 1: Meringues)
Meringues are a delight to cook: no fussy ingredients, easy preparation, no complicated equipment - just a whisk and a piping bag (or a tea spoon in the absence of a piping bag). If you are not using an electric whisk it is also good for arm muscle development.
Before you start you need to decide if you would rather have the eggs pasteurised (which I had to do as I was giving the meringues away). If so go for the Swiss (cooked) meringue. If not, than the choice is between French meringues, resulting in a lighter bodied meringue or Italian meringues, which are a bit denser as the sugar in them is partly cooked.
For the French meringue you need to beat the egg whites to a firm foam and gradually fold sugar to them. For the Italian meringue, sugar is boiled to 120˚C and streamed into beaten egg whites. For the Swiss meringues you need to beat egg whites and sugar over a water bath heating them to 50˚C (you can heat the meringue mixture to 78˚C and still end up with a stable foam) and then continue beating them to stiff peaks off the heat. Pipe and place in a barely heated oven (around 75˚C). If possible after initial hour at around 75˚C leave them in the oven overnight at 60˚C. Sprinkle some freeze dried raspberry for decoration or add a drop of pink food colouring to the mixture before piping.
A bit of science:
Sugar stabilizes the egg-white foam and turns it into glossy meringue. The more sugar you add the crispier your meringue will get. So go for anywhere between 1 to 1 proportion of sugar to egg whites (200g sugar to 200g egg-whites or 5 egg whites, or 2 to 1 (400g sugar to 200g egg whites or 5 egg whites). Do not use granulated sugar as it won’t dissolve and you will end up with a gritty texture. Leave the door of an electric oven open so that the moisture escapes and the meringues can dry out properly (you don’t have to do it if you have a gas oven, as they are ventilated already).
Oven set to a temperature over 100˚C - meringues turn yellow brownish or crack - keep the temperature under 100˚C, preferably not higher than 75˚C for longer time.
Meringues taken out of the oven too soon - meringues not crisp - keep them in the oven for longer time