Apple Snow

This recipe is more usually served in the late summer and autumn months, but I’ve chosen it now because the weather outside today has carpeted the garden with a thick layer of snow.

This is a classic dessert whose provenance stretches back centuries. Although the name ‘Apple Snow’ is the one more usually found in modern recipe books, it can also be found under the name Apple Fluff, Apple Souffle, Apple Puff and this version, Apple Cream Without Cream.

This last was found in a manuscript from the 17th century, held by The Wellcome Library. The manuscript has been attributed to the splendidly named Mrs Deborah Haddock, who sounds as if she should be the twinkly-eyed star of stories set in a small, quaint fishing village.

It is elegant in its simplicity, requiring only apple pulp, an egg-white and a little sugar. It is also, thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, prepared incredibly swiftly, requiring less than ten minutes to come together before serving, once the initial preparation has been completed.

Apple Cream Without Cream, aka apple Snow, c1675, MS7892, Wellcome Library Collection

Choice of Fruit

This recipe can be made with any apple you have to hand, either keeping a purity of flavour with a single variety, or mixing and matching in a clearing-out-the-fruit-bowl, waste-not-want-not kind of way.

One of the manuscript recipes I read recommended green apples as being the best, but failed to elaborate any identifying characteristics beyond colour. I prefer to use Bramley apples, for the pale insides and sharpness of taste. Other varieties you might like to try include Worcester Pearmains, which have dazzlingly white flesh that tastes faintly of lemon and rough-skinned Russets that have an almost nutty flavour.

Alternatively, you could follow the recommendation in the recipe above and try this with gooseberries.

Apple Snow

This recipe tweaks the original slightly with additions found in other versions. In terms of quantity, it will make a visually impressive amount, but is so light and delicate, a full glass is still only a relatively small amount. It will hold its shape for two hours or so, but can be mounded in more impressive heights if served immediately after preparation.

Serves 4 – 8

5 Bramley apples, or apple of your choice.
juice of 1 lemon
2tbs cream sherry (optional)
4tbs caster sugar
1 large egg-white

  • Peel, core and chop the apples finely. Toss them in the lemon juice as you go, to prevent them from discolouring.
  • Add the apple and lemon juice to a saucepan with the sherry, if using.
  • Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the apples soften and turn to froth.
  • Mash the apples to a pulp, then sieve to remove all lumps. Chill until required.
  • Whisk the egg-white until it will stand in soft peaks. Set aside.
  • Put 250ml chilled apple pulp into a bowl and whisk on High for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the whisked egg-white and continue whisking, adding in the sugar one spoonful at a time.
  • After 2-3 minutes the mixture will have both increased in volume and become dazzlingly white.
  • Taste and whisk in more sugar if needed.
  • Spoon or pipe into glasses and serve with some crisp biscuits on the side.
  • If you have apple pulp spare, you could spoon a little of it into the glasses before adding the apple snow.
Advertisements

Shaping Meringues

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with meringues. On the one hand they are extremely simple to make, with just two ingredients, but on the other, for the most part, they are almost universally blobby. Not such a defect, you might think, but it doesn’t help the elegance of a dish when one’s natural inclination is to the rustic.

So armed with one of my favourite baking books, I decided to experiment with trying to impose some order on these feather-light and versatile confections.

There are three basic types of meringue, which have come to be identified as French, Italian and Swiss, based mostly on how the sugar is treated in the mixing.

French meringue is the classic, with the egg-whites being whipped to soft peaks, before caster sugar is gradually added, then whisked to stiff peaks. This is a versatile meringue in that you can bake it by itself in blobs and nests an kisses or use it to top sweet-filled pies and tarts. However, it is not stable and will, over time, deflate back into a liquid. It needs to be baked after whisking.

Italian meringue has become very popular in recent times, due to its longer ‘shelf-life’ for want of a better word. The egg-whites are whisked together with a hot sugar syrup which cooks them enough to prevent them deflating once cold. Italian meringue can be folded into mousses and ice-creams to provide lightness and creaminess, can be piped directly onto cakes and pies and toasted either in the oven or with a blow-torch. It can also have butter whipped into it to make an indulgent filling/icing for cakes large and small.

Swiss Meringue is a method that falls roughly between that of French and Italian. The sugar and unwhipped egg-whites are stirred over simmering water until the sugar has dissolved, then they are removed from the heat and whisked vigorously until cool. This method makes for a firm, dazzlingly-white meringue that holds its shape exceptionally well, especially when piped with a patterned nozzle, which makes it the perfect meringue to use for adding a little more form and structure to your desserts.

This recipe comes from the Victorian baking book, “All about Biscuits” by H.G.Harris & S.P.Borella (c1900) and is listed only as a meringue mixture (one of many throughtout the book). It calls for caster sugar and the whites of eggs  to be whisked to a temperature of 66°C. Comparing this method with recipes available online, it is interesting to note that the ratio of sugar to egg-whites in modern mixtures varies, as does the temperature to which the mixture should be heated, from equal quantities by weight of sugar and egg-whites up to double the sugar to egg-whites, and in temperature from ‘until the sugar is dissolved’ as high as 80°C.

This recipe is a diplomatic middle-ground, but you should experiment to find the mixture that works best for you. What you do with the meringue after it is made, is really the main focus of this post, and my initial experiments are included below.  Most modern recipes stop after the mixing stage and either suggest the meringue be used as-is on top of pies and cakes, or that butter is whipped into the meringue to create a buttercream. Detailed below is a third option: that of baking the meringue dry to enjoy as they are or for use in other recipes. I hope to be able to add to the photographs as I discover additional suitable designs.

Use of silicone moulds

Meringue Shapes
Meringues shaped in silicone moulds

Use of flexible silicone moulds are the simplest way to give your meringues a professional look. Smooth the meringue into clean moulds, trying to ensure there are no air-pockets trapped between the mixture and the surface of the mould. The drawback of this approach is the length of time the meringues take to dry. The best method I have found, is to cook them at a slightly higher temperature initially (80°C), until the visible surface is cooked and firm, then gently ease them from the mould and allow them to dry overnight in an extremely low oven (mine will actually go as low as 30°C). They will be perfectly dry, dazzlingly white and will keep for days in an airtight container.

Meringues shaped in silicone moulds can be hollowed out to shorten baking time and provide room for a surprise filling

If you hollow out the meringue shapes, as seen above, not only does this reduce the drying time, but you can then use this for a hidden filling underneath, or turn the meringue the other way up and use it as a bowl for a moist and creamy filling: Eton Mess becomes Eton Tidy in an instant!

Use of piping tips

Spooned into a piping bag fitted with a shaped piping tip, Swiss Meringue is fantastic for creating shapes and designs with crisp details that hold their shape whilst baking. A few simple examples are listed below.

Meringue Ruffles made using the ‘leaf’ piping tip
Meringue Batons and Shells piped using an open star tip.
Meringue Feathers piped using an open star tip.
Meringue Swirls piped using an open star tip.
Meringue Fleur de Lys and Hearts piped using an open star tip.

Swiss Meringue

450g caster sugar
300g egg-whites

  • Put the egg-whites and sugar into a clean, dry bowl and set it on top of a pan of simmering water.
  • Be sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water.
  • Gently stir the ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved and the temperature has reached 66°C.
  • Remove the bowl from the pan and whisk the contents briskly until the mixture is cold, firm, billowy and dazzlingly white.
  • Pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets or into silicone moulds as you see fit.

To bake

The whiter you wish your meringues, the lower the temperature they need to bake, or rather, dry out. The shape will also dictate how long they require in the oven.

  • Preheat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan.
  • Bake for 1-2 hours, depending on shape, until set and firm. If you’re using silicone moulds, now would be the time to ease the meringues from the moulds.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 50°C, 40°C Fan and allow meringues to dry out.
  • Once cooled, store in an airtight container until required.

Mince Pies Royale

Here is a great recipe for stretching a small amount of mincemeat into 30+ rich and delicious seasonable bites.

It is adapted from a recipe by Eliza Acton, and I’ve taken the opportunity to pair it with another of her recipes which she refers to as “Superlative Mincemeat”. Taking as an example my adaptation of Hannah Glasse’s Lenten mincemeat, I decided to try making this recipe suet-free. Now I still absolutely love Hannah’s recipe, but I also love discovering new things as well.

The mincemeat recipe is a delight for anyone who loves citrus fruit. It’s also a delight for anyone who loves a healthy slug of booze in their mincemeat. I’ve actually toned down the quantity of brandy because the alcoholic haze rising from the first test batch made my eyes water. Unusually, this mincemeat includes two boiled lemons, chopped finely, which add a real zing to the overall flavour. Once the lemons have been prepared, the method is very similar to the original fat-free mincemeat.

A portion of this mincemeat is then enriched and sweetened with sugar, fresh lemon, egg yolks and butter and used to fill pastry-lined mini tins. The pastry I’ve used is the sweet version of the cornflour shortcrust, flavoured with orange zest, and cut out using a flower cookie cutter. After an initial baking, the pies are topped with meringue and then baked for a further few minutes until nicely browned.

These little pies are extremely rich, which is why baking them in a mini muffin pan is ideal. The filling sets into a dense cross between Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and the crunchy meringue is a great contrast. This quantity makes about 30 mini pies, perfect as petites fours or to serve with coffee. You can keep them in a tin, but the meringues will go a little soft after 24 hours.

You can, of course, use any mincemeat and pastry you have to hand instead.

Citrus mincemeat

Makes about 1kg of mincemeat
2 small lemons (about 170g)
The weight of the lemons in raisins, currants and chopped dates
85g candied orange peel, chopped small
85g candied citron peel, chopped small
30-50g caster sugar
60ml  brandy
60ml apple juice
0.5tsp salt
1tsp grated nutmeg
0.5tsp ground mace
1tsp ground ginger

  • Put the lemons into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Drain the water and scrub the sides of the pan to remove the bitter lemon oil.
  • Rinse the lemons also.
  • Repeat 3 times, until the lemons are tender and a clove can be pushed through the skin.
  • Cut open the lemons and remove the pips.
  • Dice the pulp and rind finely.
  • Put the lemons and the rest of the ingredients into a small pan over a low heat.
  • Cover and allow the fruit to plump up. Stir occasionally.
  • If the fruit seems a little dry, add more liquid – your choice whether it’s alcoholic or not.
  • If the mixture seems too wet, uncover and allow the excess to evaporate.
  • Set aside to cool.

Orange Cornflour Pastry

225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 large egg

  • Put everything except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Whisk the egg and, with the motor running, gradually add to the mixture until it comes together in a ball. You might not require all the egg, or you might need additional liquid if the mix looks a little dry. If you have extra egg-white, tat would be ideal, otherwise use water.
  • Knead the pastry smooth and wrap in plastic.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until required.

Eliza Acton’s Mince Pies Royale

225g mincemeat
3 large eggs
30g clarified butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
40g caster sugar
pinch of salt
caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Separate the eggs.
  • Mix together the mincemeat, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and the sugar.
  • Warm the butter until just melted and stir in.
  • Grease a large (24 cup) mini muffin pan.
  • Roll out the pastry very thinly. It is easier to work with either 1/3 or 1/2 of the pastry at a time.
  • Cut out pastry and use it to line the mini muffin pan. For a lovely, neat edge to your pies, I recommend using a flower-shaped pastry cutter. The petals help to avoid the dreaded folds which can sometimes be an issue with the pastry for mini tarts.
  • Add a teaspoon of the enriched mincemeat mixture to each tartlet.
  • Bake for 7-8 minutes until the middle has set and the pastry is cooked.
  • If you’ve got filling and pastry left over (and you probably will), use them up first by making a second batch of tartlets before making the meringue. Arrange the cooked tartlets on a baking sheet, ready for the meringue.
  • While the tarts are baking, make the meringue.
    • You won’t need to use all of the egg white, so I suggest using just half.
    • Put a bowl onto your scales and set them to zero.
    • Pour in the amount of egg-white you will be using and make a note of the weight.
    • Measure out an equivalent amount of caster sugar.
    • Whisk the egg-whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks.
    • Whisk in the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the meringue is firm and glossy.
    • Spoon the meringue into a piping bag. You choose what style of nozzle to fit.
  • When all the tarts are baked and arranged on a baking sheet, pipe the meringue on top. Make sure the meringue covers all of the filling and goes right to the edge of the pastry.
  • Return the tarts to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the meringue is nicely browned.
  • Cool the tartlets on a wire rack.