The other day I found a FANTASTIC recipe for meringue cookies (okay, I admit . . . I didn't even read the recipe, I was sucked in by the beautiful full page photo depicting the super-model of cookies . . . they were lovely!). I had decided that since the French (in general) really like meringue I would make a special batch for my language helper, to say merci for her patience and grace as I butcher her heart-language. I bought all the things I'd need, including cookie sheets (special trip to Ikea for those, as the ones at the shop down the road were 20euros . . . nearly $30 US!!! THIEVERY!) and for two nights now I had planned to make them. The problem is the recipe called for three hours in the oven. Bizaire! So finding the time has been tricky. But I was scheduled to meet with CL today at noon for lunch, so I really wanted to have them ready and waiting.
I got up this morning ready to go. When I got to the kitchen, two of the women who work at the school were there. When I told them I was making meringue cookies their response was a bit suprising: Vraiment?? C'est TRÈS difficile! (Really? Those are VERY hard!!!) One continued to tell me that she used to try every year and couldn't get them right and has since given up.
How hard can they be, vraiment?? I've made meringue before . . . and that was by hand in 100F+ at Galmi. Surely this will be EASY!! (How does that verse go . . . "pride cometh" when???) I took out all of the necessary ingredients. Converted the oven temp from farenheit to celcius. Pulled out the hand mixer and started separating the egg whites from the yolks.
I followed the recipe exactly. As I began to whip, the woman who oversees the facility here at Les Cedres came into the kitchen. Tu fais quoi? What are you doing? I told her, she wished me bon courage! and promised to make sure I wasn't here fluffing until tomorrow. ONE HOUR LATER I was still mixing the same concoction, which had grown significantly in size, but was still lacking stiff peaks.
Où est toi, stiff peaks?? Est-ce que ça viens??? (Where are you, stiff peaks?? Are you coming????) I suddenly had deja vu and saw myself back at Galmi whisking those God-forsaken egg whites. But this time I had an electric hand mixer. IL NE MARCHE PAS!!!!! (IT'S NOT WORKING!!) I searched the internet for a solution. Google's search of The Secret to Perfect Meringue yielded the truth: cream of tartar. Bummer. I don't have any. Google: Substitute for Cream of Tartar in Meringue. Answer: lemon juice. So I added more. It didn't work. I tried more sugar. It got worse.
I gave up.
I dumped the stiffless-peakless-marshmallow-fluff into the sink. Round Two: you are MINE!
Determined not to be beat out by the goo, I scrounged around for a few extra eggs and set to work again. This time, a fourth woman who works the school helped me out. L is deaf, so she signs to me with French Sign and I respond back with American Sign, mouthing words in French . . . we're quite a sight. Anyway, she watched me closely: beat 6 egg white with 1tsp lemon juice and 1/8 tsp salt until foamy. Done. Add 1 tsp each vanilla and lemon extract. Done. Slowly, but continually, add sugar while beating at medium to high speed. It started to work. It was growing and becoming a bit more firm. But still no peaks, let alone stiff ones.
L. signed something in French. I was pretty sure she said that I should have beat the egg whites first, then added the sugar and all the other stuff. Oh. Mais, la recette! (But, the recipe!) She didn't care. She insisted. In walked the woman who oversees the facility. Déborah, you are still here?!?! She then confirmed L's diagnosis. Beat the egg whites first. Then add to it. Oui, mais la recette . . . . She looked at me very compassionately and in English said, Déborah, there is no recipe for meringue! We learned this from our mothers when were children. VOILA!! That was it. My mother isn't French, therefore I hadn't learned the generational secret of perfect meringue! But, ce n'est pas grave, I am learning now . . . it's never too late. Merci Seigneur pour toute la leçons Tu as pour moi!
As the cliché goes, third times a charm!
That's right, round three. I was determined to win.
This time I not only had to steal someone's eggs (okay, not steal, just borrow) but their sugar as well. This time L was in charge: separate the egg whites. Whisk. Keep Whisking. Whisk some more. Voila. STIFF PEAKS, JE T'AI TROUVÉ!!! (Stiff Peaks, I found you!!) Then we added the sugar. More whisking. Then the lemon juice and vanilla. The more we added the less stiffy the peaks were, but they were still there.
Until the time came for me to pipe them onto the cookie sheets. I ended up with little blobby discs, but hey, they kept their blobby-disc form so I really didn't care. They were in the oven. That meant I won.
They stayed in the oven at a very low temp for several hours. All of the school employees went home, so I had no way of knowing for sure if they were in fact done. I tasted one. Sugar coated cardboard. Hmm. So they definately aren't my favorites, but hey, c'est la vie at least I now have something to put in the jar for my language helper (and I didn't toss round two, going to try to salvage it and make a lemon meringue pie . . . wishful thinking perhaps).