Thy enemy is meringue: The November Daring Baker’s Challenge

by piecurious

Meringue.  It fills me with dread.  It riddles me with anxiety.  It deflates my confidence.

Egg whites and sugar.  A dash of cream of tartar to act as a stabilizer.  Three simple ingredients, heart palpitations and a lump in my throat.

Beat the whites with the cream of tartar.  Pour in the sugar, slowly.  Wait for them—those glossy peaks that almost but not fully hold their shape.  They should be flexible, not stiff.  With only a slight curve in their peaks, they shouldn’t flop over.  The texture, feathery and cloud-like, but not like the clouds that seem to protrude out of the sky, singular and distinct, like images from a children’s pop-up book.  But rather those that mingle with each other, awash with the blue of the sky, visibly defined yet without a clear beginning or end.

This is the meringue of lemon meringue pies.  And it would seem that there is just one single moment—a flash of a millisecond perceived only by the talented and trained eye—at which point the three simple ingredients come together to form this desirable union.

Three months and numerous pies later this moment continues to elude me.  Did I look away, distracted, precisely at that moment?  Or was I mesmerized by the whir of the mixer and the blur of the whisk?  It’s always too late when I finally realize the peaks are too soft or too rigid—the meringue is either on the pie or I’ve simply gone past the point of no return. Determination turns to dejection.  Trounced again by meringue.

Dacquoise is a stiff-whipped and baked nut-infused meringue.  Given my penchant for under-whipping due to my fear of over-whipping, I thought this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge would be right up my alley.

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

This traditional Filipino Sans Rival cake comes together with airy cashew-studded meringue layered between cloying buttercream.  The meringue is whipped stiff and baked until crunchy.  My meringue was whipped stiff and baked until flimsy, thinking perhaps the meringue would stiffen upon cooling.  An hour later with still flimsy meringue, I hurriedly popped it back into the oven.  My meringue had now been whipped stiff and baked until burnt.

But no worries, this Sans Rival wasn’t intended for the bakery sale floor.  I simply trimmed away the burnt bits.  No need to panic or lose confidence.  I make large batches of buttercream weekly without error.  It would all work out, I was sure.  Until my sugar crystallized on impact with the whipped egg yolks and made barely enough to cover a single layer of dacquoise.

But no worries, this Sans Rival wasn’t even intended for my belly.  I neither enjoy eating icing or meringue.  Aesthetics was all that mattered now.  I haphazardly whipped up a basic buttercream—a combination of butter and icing sugar—slathered it on, tossed a few cashews on for decoration and voila—the November Daring Baker’s Challenge completed, yet my fear of meringue remains intact.