|1135888. Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:28 am
Meringues are made from egg whites and sugar, with perhaps some vinegar, cream of tartar or cornstarch. Devotees may find some comfort in knowing that meringues are fat free; any oil in the mix will collapse the foam.
Take care when choosing eggs for meringues! Some recommend old eggs, which do separate more easily, though traces of yolk may leak out – a definite no-no, given yolks’ fat content. Extremely fresh eggs are reportedly impossible to foam, though fresh eggs from the fridge work best; they are less alkaline, less runny and make a more stable foam.
A yolkless egg would be ideal! These do occur, often laid by an immature chicken, and called dwarf eggs, wind eggs, or cock eggs. Tradition has it they were laid by roosters, and would hatch into a cockatrice, a chicken-snake chimera that kills with a glance, with weasels alone immune to their powers. As might have occurred to Perseus, a cockatrice can be killed by its own reflection, though a crowing rooster will also do the job. Better then, perhaps, to prevent the cockatrice from hatching by throwing the egg over one’s house and smashing it, taking care the egg does not touch the roof. Using cock eggs to make meringues would probably be ill advised.
When beating egg whites, copper or silver-plated bowls are best. Since at least the 18th Century, copper has been the traditional French choice and it does indeed make a better foam. Copper and silver taken up from the surface of the bowl stop the strongest bonds forming between the egg white proteins, preventing the foam from overstiffening and collapsing in an embarrassing liquid mess.
The word “meringue” itself is of uncertain origin. The Swiss village of Meiringen makes much of its dubious claim, though they are not without alternative fictional tourist attractions: nearby are the dramatic Reichenbach Falls, where Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes fell to their deaths (albeit one more permanently than the other).
Part of French, Swiss and Italian culinary traditions, the meringue now has another spiritual home in the Antipodes, where pavlova is often eaten at Christmas. As to where exactly the pavlova was invented, there are competing trans-Tasman claims of priority.
New Zealand has a better claim than Australia and holds the record for the world’s biggest pavlova: made from 10,000 egg whites and more than 600 kg of sugar, the dish measured 50 square metres and could feed 10,000.
Anna Pavlova, of dessert name and ballet fame, originator of ballet's Dying Swan, was also largely responsible for the modern pointe shoe’s design. Pavlova stiffened and strengthened her shoes, as the shape of her feet would not allow her to walk on her toes otherwise.
The airy dessert was named for the light, sylph-like prima ballerina, though we do not know if Anna Pavlova even liked pavlova; in fact, she very probably never even had a slice.
Her last words were supposedly, “Get my Swan costume ready,” making no mention of meringues.
There is a claim on the Wikipedia article, and oft repeated elsewhere, that slowly baked meringues in the Loire region of France are referred to as "pets", that is to say, “farts”, due, supposedly, to their airy consistency. This may well be be too good to be true; there is no citation on the English Wikipedia page or anywhere else and no such assertion is made on the French Wikipedia page. Moreover, French-language Google searches turn up no mention of “pet” or “pets”, in this culinary sense, at least.
Egg yolks are not mainly cholesterol, as common association might lead one to believe. They do contain a significant amount of cholesterol for a food, but it is in the microgram range in each yolk, at around 1% of the total mass. Yolks are, of course, mainly water – 52% water, in fact – and 27% fat and 16% protein. Once much maligned, egg yolks have been rehabilitated of late as dietary cholesterol is no longer believed to lead to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels.
Egg yolks are also a dietary source of Vitamin D, of which there are very few.
The Penny Cyclopćdia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volumes 7-8
C. Knight (1837)
Notes & Queries, William White (1850), p477
“The Occurrence of Unusually Small Eggs in Three Species of Songbirds”, Stephen I. Rothstein, The Wilson Bulletin Vol. 85, No. 3 (Sep., 1973)
Superstition aside, making a meringue from cock eggs would indeed require some caution, as only around a third of these dwarf eggs are entirely yolk free. As the name “dwarf eggs” suggests, they are much smaller than normal eggs. They are also extremely rare, occurring at rates of 0.05 to 0.09 percent in chickens. Besides, most people would never encounter them, due to industrial egg sorting and production. In short, the cock egg meringue was never a very practical idea.
How the cockatrice kills depends on the tale: some petrify, others burn all they approach, and yet others cause the flesh to fall from your bones. Cockatrices and basilisks, essentially the same fable, may have their origin in travellers’ tales of mongooses fighting cobras, a slender kernel of truth indeed.
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee (2004), pp102-109
|Thanks to the Larousse Gastronomique, it’s widely believed that the meringue was invented by a pastry chef in the Swiss town of Meirignen around 1720, and brought to France a couple of decades later by the Polish father-in-law of Louis XV. Sounds suitably colorful: except that the French Writer Massailot had already published a recipe for “Meringues” in 1691.
The linguist Otto Jaenicke has traced the word meringue back to an alteration of the Latin word merenda, meaning “light evening meal,” into meringa ...found… near what is now Belgium… that variously meant “evening bread,”... “traveller’s snack”
A plausible explanation is then given of how pastries were often formed to mimic biscuits and breads. However, the jury is still out on this one.
McGee also quotes this ‘delightful’ alternative method for fluffing egg whites:
|How to Break Whites of Eggs Speedily
A fig or two shred in pieces and then beaten amongst the whites of eggs will bring them into an oil speedily: some break them with a stubbed rod, and some by wringing them often through a sponge.
Sir Hugh Platt, Delightes for Ladies, 1605
The French wikipedia article has a nice summary of the various etymological theories.
What Caesar did for my salad, Albert Jack (2010):
|And so the debate raged on, with each side refuting the other’s claims, until 2008 and the publication by Dr Helen Leach, a culinary expert at the University of Otago in New Zealand, of The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. Since then, the Australians have gone a little quiet on the subject as Leach, in her research for the book, managed to unearth evidence for a pavlova in a New Zealand women’s magazine from 1929. She also discovered a recipe for the dish in the Rangoria Mothers’ Union Cookery Book, a New Zealand publcation of 1933, while Mrs McKay’s Practical Home Cookery Book of 1929 includes a recipe for three dozen ‘little pavlovas’. So unless the Australians can come up with an earlier, printed recipe, then I’m afraid this debate appears to be over, sport. |
Anna Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926 and 1929, and with no specific record of her being presented with a pavlova (something likely to have found its way into the public record), it seems that it was named after her, rather than made for her; the dish is light and airy, much as the dancer was on her feet. Moreover, as the earliest reference we have to a meringue called ‘pavlova’ is from a 1929 New Zealand cookbook (when Anna Pavlova was very much part of the zeitgeist), and without any specific naming event recorded, it seems most likely that Anna Pavlova never ate the dish herself, especially as she died shortly thereafter, in 1931.
Having said that, a soft chewy meringue topped with cream and fruit is not startlingly original, and Anna Pavlova may, of course, have had eaten something along those lines at some stage, though, if she did, she would not have thought of it as having any particular personal connection.
It is difficult to say if she would be pleased with her dictionary entry, though perhaps she would not mind enduring so long in the popular imagination as being synonymous with an almost ethereal lightness (albeit one of sugar and eggs).
Anna Pavlova does seem to have enjoyed sweets such as candied fruit, though we do not know if she liked meringues.
Anna Pavlova, Oleg Kerensky (1973); My Years with Pavlova, Harcourt Algeranoff (1957); Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art, Keith Money (1982): Google Books search, mainly to see if she liked meringues, though only snippets previews were shown.
By contrast, peach melba was actually made for Australian soprano, Nellie Melba, by French chef, Auguste Escoffier, as was melba toast (for when she was sick), melba sauce (made of raspberries and redcurrant) and a chicken dish called melba garniture; she definitely ate all of them.
“Charitable Kiwi chef whips up giant pavlova,” NZ News UK
Prior to the current record holder, the biggest pavlova was one made five years earlier in 2005, again in New Zealand; it was 64 metres long, made from 5,000 egg whites, 150 kg of sugar and 150 litres of cream. It was called “Pavkong”, beating the previous record holder from 1999, “Pavzilla”, also from New Zealand.
Given this fine appellation tradition, it seems odd that the current record holder did not see fit to name his gargantuan meringue; “Paviathan” and “Pav-emoth” come to mind, though “Pavarotti” is probably the winner.
New Zealand Herald, “Students make world’s biggest pavlova”
The origin of pointe is itself interesting. It developed from an appreciation of the graceful, dainty and light appearance of dancers who were on a wire, just before being lifted into the air; the support of the ‘flying machine’ allowed the performers to stand on their toes. Since the dramatic debut of the wire in 1795, choreographers and trainers have sought to mimic its weightlessness.
“The Pointe Shoe Manual”, Tiana Juarez-Noecker (2011): Introduction
(This is a self-published ebook.)