Basil, Mint & Raspberry Meringues

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might remember that last week I shared a homemade pasta recipe, which (since it calls for lots of egg yolks) always provides me with a great opportunity to make my favourite dessert, meringue, with the leftover egg whites. These little beauties are the perfect taste of summer for cold and rainy January days, and although they look rather special they’re actually really easy to put together. If you haven’t made meringue before or you’ve had a few disasters, then fear not and read on, because I’ve got some great tips.

Ingredients
4 egg whites
235g caster sugar
A few drops of lemon juice
For the cream:
400ml double cream
A small handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp icing sugar
¼ tsp peppermint essence
¼ tsp green food colouring (optional, I just think a very pale green looks pretty)
To decorate:
Fresh raspberries
A few more fresh basil leaves

Makes 8 individual meringues, or you could just make 2 big pavlovas

Preheat the oven to 150°C (140°C fan). Start by separating the eggs (if you’re not using leftover egg whites from my awesome homemade pasta dish), making sure not to get any of the egg yolk mixed in, as this will stop your egg whites whipping up properly. Then add a drop or two (no more) of lemon juice to the whites – this doesn’t add any flavour, but instead stops the egg whites becoming over-whipped, which is when you end up with a bowl of goo that won’t thicken.

Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until they are light, fluffy and form soft peaks. Add about a third of the caster sugar and whisk vigorously until the eggs thicken up and form soft peaks again. Repeat with the second third, whisking again until the mixture thickens, and finally add the last third. Whisk until the mixture is stiff and glossy, and forms solid peaks which do not wilt. Each of these stages can take a little while, so don’t panic. Also, and I’m letting you into a secret here (so shh), Mary Berry won’t tell you this but the egg whites do not have to get so stiff you can do the upside down bowl trick. The idea is that you should be able to hold the bowl upside down over your head and not end up wearing a Georgian-style wig made of egg. But, although this is ideal, it’s not actually essential. If you’ve been whisking the eggs for ten minutes and they’re really thick but not actually immobile yet, then don’t worry. As long as they hold their shape well, you can go ahead and cook them.

The next important thing I need to tell you is that you must use baking parchment or siliconized baking paper, and NOT greaseproof paper. If you use greaseproof paper, the meringue will weld itself to the paper and refuse to let go. Baking parchment and greaseproof paper, although often used interchangeably, are not the same thing.

Anyway. Spread out the correct paper on a flat baking tray, and then spoon the meringue mixture out to create little nests about 8cm in diameter. They shouldn’t spread in cooking but they might puff up slightly so leave a bit of space between them (you might ned to use two trays). Place in the oven and bake for an hour, then without opening the oven door, turn the oven off and leave it to cool with the meringues inside. This helps them to dry out for maximum crispiness.

To decorate, simply chop the fresh basil as finely as you can, then add to the double cream with the icing sugar, peppermint essence and green food colouring and whip until soft peaks are formed. Top each meringue with a generous dollop of cream and then arrange the fresh raspberries on top with a small sprig of basil. You can easily decorate these a couple of hours ahead, and just keep them in the fridge until you want to serve.