There are certain weather considerations that a cook in England does not need to take into account (that is to say without the ever noticeable effects of climate change). It’s rarely ever hot, it’s rarely ever humid and it rarely gets that cold. Last weekend I went home to Kentucky, to cook for my parents’ office party and found that I was battling with heat and humidity- that I’d never really had to think about before (except in terms of my own body temperature and its effects on my appetite). I finally understood why a large number of people render baking recipes as flawed. I’ve never thought of baking as being temperamental, but this weekend I learnt baking is rather like a keeping a plant. Give it unsavoury conditions and it will die a disagreeable death.
Lesson one. Making meringue roulade in 100% humidity is like throwing bread cubes into a pond and expecting croutons. Of course, I hadn’t thought about this before I had separated my eggs, whisked the whites, added the sugar, folded through pistachio nuts, lined the baking sheet and placed it in the oven. Why would I?
The result, of course, was a slab of marshmallow. I had wanted a crisp outside and a chewy inside- not a squidgy and gelatinous mess. Perfectionist, that I am, I started over. I baked the meringue at a lower temperature for longer and got out the dehumidifier. It was fine, but I wasn’t going to win an award in sugar craft.
Lesson two. Rolling pastry in heat and humidity is impossible. Pastry needs a cool environment and my parents’ air conditioning had given up fighting the humidity and may as well have been on holiday, drinking a cocktail on a sun lounger for all the good that it was doing. In other words, I would have had just as much success rolling the pastry, in summer, on the 96th street subway platform. Note to all cooks- in kitchen designing never place an oven underneath your main work surface, unless of course you plan to use it solely for warming you backside. I found myself wishing that I had put homemade bread on the menu instead.
I read that the phrase “the proof is in the pudding” is shortened from it’s original form, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and this was definitely the case on this evening. Despite, my lousy day as a pastry chef, the food all turned out to great acclaim, even if it was not worthy of being in front of the usual cameras. The desserts: pistachio meringue roulade, chocolate bread and butter pudding and plum crumble were polished off and recipes were requested. The next day, waiting for a delayed plane at Cincinnati airport, I got out my Tupperware pot of chocolate bread and butter pudding and the seventh Harry Potter book- airport delays have never been so sweet.
Pistachio Meringue Roulade with berries and cream
Meringue roulade is baked in a Swiss roll tin (or to Americans’ a sheet tray with a small lip). It’s baked at a higher temperature than normal meringue and takes about 15-20 minutes for 4-5 egg whites. If you want to make a simple but impressive dessert, then this is it. A good rule of thumb: for each egg white you need 50g/2oz sugar. This is the kind of dessert that you will want to eat for breakfast the following day- and my mother will back me on this one! If you are using an English Swiss roll tin, cut the eggs to 4, the sugar to 225g/8oz and the nuts to 175g/6oz.
5 egg whites
280g/10oz caster sugar
200g/7oz Pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
300mls whipping cream
2 punnets of raspberries (about 200g/7 oz)
½ pint blueberries (about 140g/5oz)
1/ Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Line a 10 by 15 inch (about 25 x 40 cm) tin with baking parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil.
2/ In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with electric beaters until stiff peaks form when you pull out the beaters. Keeping the beaters on medium-high speed, begin adding the sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat until the whites thicken, are glossy and continue to maintain stiff peaks.
3/ Gently fold through ½ of the pistachio nuts. Spread evenly into the lined tin with a spatula and sprinkle over the remaining nuts. Place into the oven for 20 minutes, or until set and crisp on top but has not coloured.
4/ Lay out a large piece of parchment paper (slightly bigger than meringue tin) on the counter and turn out the meringue. Let sit for a few minutes then, using the parchment roll up the meringue and allow it to cool in this way.
5/ Whisk the cream to soft peaks, and then fold through the berries. Unroll the meringue and spread the cream evenly over the inside. Roll up again, this time without the parchment. Slice to serve.