Beet Meringues

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 12 Dec 2014

I’m not really sure what possessed me to make meringues while I should have been deep in the throes of preemptive holiday prep. My son was bored, for starters, the sound of Curious George droning in the background. His ennui was tangible. He ran around frenetically, arching his back ferally as he fished out long-lost marbles from the underskirt of the living room radiator. Little feet scurried and shuffled surreptitiously from living room to kitchen, an eventual break in motion ending with a question.

“Can we do science now?” he asked, his puppy dog eyes creased at the corners, his tongue silently licking the edges of his lips.

Science is our alternative to boredom, our favorite rainy day enterprise. Our experiments are generally very sloppy, resulting in fizzy, florescent-hued glop raining fervently onto the wood floors. I was not in the mindset to clean sundry messes in multiple rooms and I just couldn’t stomach extricating neon foam, most likely with a toothpick, from the crevices between the floorboards.

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With a dozen eggs perched on the counter I immediately considered meringues.

Back in the kitchen I attempted to explain meringue science to my son while he wrapped his sweetly dimpled hands around the KitchenAid knob, letting the whisk amble aimlessly in circles. Appliance tampering obviously trumped the scientific process and I giggled as he adorned my mixer with a rather jocular set of walrus tusks.

While he watched the whisk whir hypnotically, I removed eggs from their snug cardboard carton and delicately cracked the cocoa-brown shells, releasing the yolks into a small white ramekin and the whites into a translucent glass bowl, allowing the yolks to warm to room temperature. A few unused roasted beets caught my eye, perched desolately on the refrigerator shelf. The juice yields a vibrantly crimson food coloring, though I wasn’t sure if the earthy flavor would overpower the sugary lightness of the meringues.

I peeled one beet, diced it, and blended it to a pulp. Together we passed the puree through a fine-mesh sieve, watching the ruby red juice trickle into an alabaster white bowl. The resemblance to blood did not go unnoticed and my son stared at the sanguine liquid suspiciously, trying to mentally compartmentalize the visceral redness of the juice. So we quickly pushed aside the dappled bowl.

Superfine sugar dissolves more fluently in egg whites than granulated; make it yourself by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor until it becomes fine like sand. I let my son pour the egg whites into the mixing bowl along with cream of tartar, which helps the egg whites become fluffy and voluminous. Beat the whites until frothy and then slowly incorporate the sugar.

Though my son is often heavy handed with dry ingredients, tossing in everything in one fell swoop, he acquiesced and waited until the eggs began forming peaks. Adding sugar prematurely delays the foaming process; the key to successful meringue batter is to incorporate the sugar slowly and methodically, giving each tablespoon the opportunity to dissolve into the egg protein. Overzealous integration often results in collapsed meringue. We observed, rather breathlessly, as the eggs transformed from viscous slime to bubbly foam to thick, white, glossy snow.

Before we popped the meringues into the oven, we swirled in the beet juice, which both delighted and disgusted my son. I baked the meringues on low heat until crisp on the outside and aerated like cotton candy in the center. A bite into the delicately crackly exterior reveals gooey, sticky marshmallow sweetness, the beet flavor vivid but not overwhelming. Slightly honeyed and definitely earthy, it worked really well.

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Beet Meringues

1 small beet, washed, scrubbed and trimmed
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup superfine sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beet individually in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast for about 45-50 minutes, or until they tender when pierced with a fork or knife. Unwrap beet and cool slightly. Remove the skin using paper towels, chop roughly and puree in a food processor. Add puree to a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and use a spatula to press the beets down until the juice squeezes into the bowl. Discard or save puree and set aside beet juice to mix with meringue batter.

2. Separate the cold eggs into two separate bowls and let the egg whites stand until they reach room temperature, about 30 minutes. Reserve egg yolks for another use.

3. Decrease oven heat to 215 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a very clean and dry standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until frothy and then increase speed to a medium-high and add sugar, 1-2 tablespoons at a time. Whisk for about 8 minutes, until meringues are stiff and glossy.

4. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in beet juice very carefully, creating a marbled swirl look. Do not fully incorporate the juice.

5. Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets, yielding about 8 large meringues. Use your spoon to create swirls and peaks on each cookie. Cook meringues on middle rack for about 1 1/2 hours. Reduce heat to 170 degrees and cook for another 1/2 hour. Turn the oven off and cool for one hour in the oven until the meringues are crispy on the outside.

6. Serve immediately or keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Yield: 8-10 meringues.

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