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My Mother's Fab Meringues


Egg whites - one-half to one cup
Be nice to chickens; use free-range eggs. Try 4 to 6 egg whites, depending on the size of your eggs.

Vanilla essence - 3 or 4 drops

Caster sugar - 2 x the volume of your egg whites
Use the fine-grained sugar, whatever it's called in your country. Here in Australia it's known as caster sugar, or quick-dissolving sugar. It's ground finer than regular white table sugar, so it dissolves more easily. Once you have your egg whites in a cup, measure out the sugar to exactly twice the volume of the egg whites: i.e. if you have three-quarters of a cup of egg whites, you need one-and-a-half cups of sugar.


Make sure all your utensils are completely dry. Meringues are sensitive little beasts, and they don't like moisture at all. Don't make meringues on a rainy or really humid day: remember they're mostly air, and if that air contains a lot of water, it has an effect. If you try this recipe in wet weather, your meringues will fall flat and burn. Really.

Get the egg whites into a large tall bowl, set the mixer to its highest speed, and start making bubbles! (And spare a thought for all the women through the ages who have made meringues using just a hand-beater, or a fork. Eeek.)

When the egg whites start to froth, gradually add the sugar, a few spoonsful at a time, beating all the while; add the vanilla essence about halfway through the sugar. By the time all the sugar is in, you should have some opaque white frothy mix in the bowl. This is good. You're on the right track.

How do you tell when you've beaten the egg white mixture enough? When it's not runny at all. When you can hold a spoonful of it upside down and none of it drops off. When you swirl the spoon through it and the swirls hold their shape indefinitely. Now give it an extra minute on high speed for good measure, and switch off the mixer. You're ready to start baking.

Did I mention that you should have pre-heated the oven? Sorry. Please heat the oven. 250 degrees Farenheit is fine. That's barely above boiling water level, but the thing with meringues is that you're basically just letting the air in all those bubbles expand, which it does in the first 15 minutes, and after that it's a slow drying-out. Not much heat required.

Now get out your large flat baking tray (every kitchen has one, they breed like coathangers) and spread some aluminium (sorry, Americans - that's a-loo-min-um :) foil over it. You'll be making 24 meringues this time, and there should be enough left in the bowl for a second baking. Use a large teaspoon of mixture for each meringue, and allow space for them to double in size as they bake. Put an arty little swirl in them, it looks nice when they're done. Now, top shelf of the oven - and set the timer to call you in one hour. Relax.

Lick the beaters! Scrape the bowl! It's good clean fun, and it's something to do while the meringues are baking. Put on some gentle music, or a Trek video, or check out your fave web sites. You need something to do that will have you hanging around the house for 2 hours, so this is no time to go down the pub. You want good meringues.

After one hour, turn the oven down to 225 degrees. After another 20 minutes, turn it down to 200 degrees. After yet another 20 minutes, turn it down to 175 degrees. After (ho-hum) another 20 minutes, your 2 hours are up! Your meringues are done. Take them out and leave them on the tray to cool, then transfer to an airtight container for storage - they pick up moisture from the air rapidly, but in a container they keep for at least a week. None of mine have ever hung around for longer than a week, but you're welcome to try eating them in 6 months time if you're curious and have lots of willpower.

Meringue Troubleshooting
The little sugar hits should be a delicate creamy pale beige in color. Don't holler at me cause they're not like those snow-white things you see in the store: that's all done with mirrors and chemicals! This is natural cooking here. If your meringues burn, you'll know. They'll be flat, or collapsed at the top; they'll be brown; they'll taste like burned sugar. You've probably tried this in wet weather (told you so!) or your oven is too hot. Experiment with lower temperatures. Don't expect to get perfect meringues the first time you try this recipe - I have to adjust it every time I move house and encounter a new oven.

Enjoy your meringues! They're great with fresh cream. If you're in Australia, I'm talking King Island cream for a peak meringue experience. - Meringues contain absolutely no vitamins or fibre, you get crumbs all over your clothes while eating them, and the sugar buzz is unbeatable.
Let me know how you go!

This classic Russian meringue recipe is brought to you by my mother's side of the family, the Zatopliaeffs, currently scattered around Sacramento, the Bay Area, Sao Paolo (Brazil) and Melbourne (Australia).

My mother was Olga Konstantinovna Zatopliaeva (1922-70), the second of four daughters, and I remember her making these meringues when I was a toddler in Concord, CA. When I visited her eldest sister in Sacramento in 1988, she gave me the recipe.

The ingredients are simple. The process takes some practice and good karma. The results are addictively yummy.

Hope you like this, whoever you are. If you do actually try this recipe...

Email me!

Created by Elena Leonoff in Melbourne, Australia; now relocated to Tver, Russia.
This page originated in December 1995. Updated on January 7, 2000.