All moved in, sadly no books yet unpacked (despite me theoretically setting aside tonight to do it... and my ironing, incidentally, which also hasn't happened). Luckily I put a couple of books in my last minute bag, so haven't been short on reading material.
As promised - or rather, as offered - here is the recipe for the Apricot Meringue Gateau I made the other day. Basically I took two different recipes from Afternoon Teas: Homemade Bakes & Party Cakes and doctored them a very small amount. To be honest, you can substitute any fruit for the apricot - I think this would be lovely with mixed berries and kiwi fruit, for instance. It was all much easier than I anticipated. But - warning - you will need an electric whisk. Or lots of muscles.
Whenever I put recipes up, I assume total ignorance, and that lots of things will go wrong. This is because I hate recipes which assume you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of baking ('until it is the consistency of creme brulee' or whatever) and especially those which don't give warning for the things which might collapse or crumble or not work... Basically I've added my own irreverent comments to each step. Ok, warnings done, here is the recipe:
1.) Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line two circular sandwich tins. Nobody EVER does this first, but recipes always put it first, so I'm going to follow suit.
2.) Whisk four egg whites until they're stiff - i.e. they hold their position if you make little mountains in them. (Separating eggs is, I discovered, much easier using your hands - break the egg, put the lot in your hands over the bowl, and pass the yolk between your hands until there is no egg white yet.) I couldn't find any use for four left over egg yolks... any ideas?
At this stage, and indeed all the whisking stages, whisking too much is better than whisking too little, I find... obviously, as Goldilocks would say, whisking just the right amount it best.
3.) Add 110g/4oz/half a cup of soft light brown sugar (brown caster), and continue to whisk until the mixture softens again. Then fold in the same amount of sugar again, with a little vanilla essence. 'Fold in' is one of those lovely baking phrases which everyone interprets to their own discretion - I see it as stirring but with a horizontal, rather than circular, motion. Oh, and vanilla essence is one of those ingredients that surely can't ever really be necessary, but feels fun.
4.) Put half the mixture in each tin, spread evenly, and bake for 40 minutes. Leave to cool. But of course we'll be getting on with the next bit, not just watching it cool. A tip I nabbed from Delia Smith, and which seemed to work, is to turn the oven off after about 30 minutes or so, and then leave it in the cooling oven for... well, any time really. I left it in for about 25 minutes in a cooling oven. And I have no way of telling whether a meringue is cooked or not - it's obvious on top, but not so obvious underneath. What with the top getting in the way.
5.) Now for the filling. Whisk (or, indeed, whip) 300ml/half a pint/1.25cups of double cream. That might be known as 'heavy cream' in America? Basically, the least healthy cream on which you can lay your hands. The recipe book suggests you whip it alongside 25g/1oz/4 tablespoons of icing sugar (also known as confectioners' sugar?) which I did, but I think it would have been quite sweet enough without it. Chose, based on the sweetness of your tooth...
6.) Chop up the contents of a 150g/50z drained can of apricots into fairly sizable chunks - quarters, say? (Tinned apricots should give you a weight and a drained weight - make sure you get the drained weight, i.e. without the water.) That's the least amount you could use - I feel it could easily have had a few more. I suppose you could use real apricots, but let's pretend you're not.
7.) Divide your chopped apricots into four piles. (This is where I depart from the recipe, which wants you to keep them all together.)
--If you have a food processor, then process two of the quarters, and stir into about two thirds of the whipped double cream. If, like me, you don't own a food processor, then add them to the whipped double cream and whisk it a bit more, covering the bowl with your other hand, so that it doesn't go everywhere...
--then loosely stir in another quarter. And put the mixture in the fridge.
--Yes, you've got another quarter of the chopped apricots and a third of the whipped cream left... be patient!
8.) While you're waiting for the meringues to cool, get working on the caramelised sugar shapes. If, like me, the idea is terrifying - be calm! I found this quite surprisingly easy. That might be a fluke, and I'll never manage it again, but... we'll see!
9.) Line a baking sheet (or any flat surface, really) with baking paper/parchment. Heat 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar gently, until it melts, then increase the heat and cook until a spoonful hardens when dropped into cold water. The key here, I think, is heating it really gently and slowly to start with. I stared at it for ages, and it was doing nothing. I started to wonder whether the heat was turned on, whether the book was lying, whether the sugar was somehow heat resistent... but no, it just needed time to contemplate melting. And the spoonful-hardens-in-water thing sounds like fanciful recipe book nonsense, but it worked - it even made a clink against my glass bowl. It made me feel a little like a magician.
10.) Drizzle the sugar into decorative shapes. So says the recipe book. As you can see, my 'decorative shapes' are just blobs. But it was fun, and so easy - put a small amount on a wooden spoon, and drizzle it around. Add more to each shape if you want to. Maybe next time I'll be ambitious and spell out my name or something, but my baking parchment wasn't quite level, so the melted sugar ran everywhere. Perhaps you should use some to weigh down the corners first?
11.) Compiling Time!
--Turn one cooled meringue-filled-baking-tin onto a plate. This is where I accidentally dropped the tin onto the oven, and caused earthquake-like cracks throughout the meringue. Oops. Have it upside down, so the softer side is in the middle of the gateau.
--Spread the meringue/cream mixture on top
--Put the second meringue on top. Try and keep the top uppermost... might involve some judicious juggling, or turning onto another surface first, but the firm bit needs to be on top. (And you know how fragile meringue can be. Maybe use cream as an adhesive...)
--Spread the remaining cream on top.
--Scatter the remaining apricots over the top (you knew there was a reason these were left!)
--Add your decorative sugar shapes - and we're all done for a yummy, oh-so-healthy (ahem) pudding!
Do let me know if you give it a go...