Oh Mary, Mary, Mary. I used to think we would get along so well, but with this recipe you have broken me. Readers of a nervous disposition should beware, it is going to get ugly.
The first warning sign was the orange blossom water. Half a teaspoon of it to be precise. Mary's recipes tend to include minuscule amounts of slightly unusual ingredients, by which I mean ingredients I have never used before. For the walnut cake it was cream of tartar, which was quite straightforward to find, and at least I got to use another few grains of it for this recipe. Orange blossom water was less easy to acquire. I tried multiple supermarket home delivery services only for them to tell me it was out of stock. I got desperate and started looking for websites that did next day delivery and realised it was probably not that crucial. My wonderful grandad went looking and managed to find orange extract instead, having scoured the shelves for me. The Husband called in for the other ingredients on the way home from work and triumphantly returned with orange blossom water, to a somewhat disproportionate level of glee from me. These recipes are a definite family effort!
Bright and early on Saturday morning I got started. The first issue was realising that my baking trays weren't the right size to fit two discs of meringue on. The second issue was that my largest piping nozzle was much smaller than the suggested one and my discs probably ended up a bit flatter than they should have. The third issue was that filling the piping bag with meringue was a messy business, Millie spent the whole four and a half hours following me around the kitchen hoping to catch the drips, and there were many. So five separate baking trays were lined, piped with meringue and wedged into the oven. This in itself was a tricky process trying to get them all to fit, and a few of the discs required emergency piping after inadvertently coming into contact with the shelves of the oven.
The fondant violets were great fun, once I got going. It was a bit of a pain colouring my own icing before I started, but it turned out quite well, and for the most part they look fairly like violets. However things were about to go downhill.
The next step of the recipe was simple. I was to slide the meringues off the baking trays. This is what happened.
All of them stuck and clung to the baking paper. I cooked them for longer, I refrigerated them, I gently peeled off the paper inch by inch. I tried my best. And I, somewhat deludedly, continued to layer them as instructed, hoping that somehow it wouldn't matter that my already flat discs were now fragments and crumbs. Luckily for me, I am the granddaughter of an exceptional builder, and I was playing with mortar and a trowel before I started school. Hurrah for plastering.
I covered the crushed meringue with a thick smooth layer and hoped for the best. My mum called at this point, I remember laughing, perhaps slightly hysterically, at how badly it was going. She encouragingly reminded me that everyone loved Eton mess. I then put it back in the oven, just in time for The Husband to ask me whether it was supposed to be taller. And still I laughed, perhaps slightly edgily but there was definitely still a sense of humour intact.
But then came the second meringue. It started positively, there was even some excitement at finally getting to use my thermometer that has sat in the drawer unopened since I got it. The Husband offered to help me whisk, and with Millie at our feet we had a sickeningly cheerful few minutes stood around the pan, and even cheered when the temperature hit seventy. I know, twee, but it's ok we got our comeuppance.
Twenty minutes of whisking later and we still had white soup. And this was, I'm ashamed to admit, where my mood changed somewhat. Three and a half hours in and the thought of starting the meringue all over again was, frankly, upsetting. The Husband tried to suggest that I change the dish to a fruit-filled meringue nest. I fear my response became slightly, ahem, histrionic, as I exclaimed that the whole point of the exercise was to make the exact recipe, and the whole point of the recipe was to make two different types of meringue. The Husband valiantly pointed out that the point of the exercise was to have fun, and bid a hasty retreat, wise man.
With those words echoing, I made another attempt at meringue. I tried to convince myself it was something akin to a facial sauna as I stood at the hob whisking egg whites over steaming water. It was a much more successful outcome, however it was also now one in the afternoon, and I was due to visit family at two. Which might go some way to defend my attempts at icing.
With no clear worksurfaces left, Millie clinging to my ankles mouth open and tail wagging, I made a desperate attempt at piping the meringue (and every other nearby surface). It wasn't tall enough to pipe three layers, so I did what I thought constituted a decent enough effort (my bar was set very low by this point) and shoved it in the oven, then dashed upstairs to shower, as I too was covered in meringue.
Filling it with the fruit and whipped cream mixture was a doddle after all of that, although there was only space for about a third of it, so the rest got taken to my parents' house in a separate bowl. It didn't really look like it was supposed to, but the fondant violets distract somewhat from the mess. It reminded me a little of a rather decorative hat.
So after four and a half hours, seventeen egg whites, five baking trays, a whole lot of cleaning, I had a vaguely decorative version of meringue, fruit and cream. It did get rave reviews from the family, and disappeared in a few short hours, so it was definitely not an entirely unsuccessful effort. The sticking point (fabulous pun) was the meringue falling apart when I tried to remove it from the baking paper, and it all went a bit downhill from there. I did learn how to make two types of meringue though, which I have never made before, and how to make fondant violets, and I got to use orange blossom water. On that note, if anyone has use of an almost full bottle, I have no idea what to do with the rest of it. Next up is gluten free pitta, which is a particularly sticky dough apparently, my favourite!
Mary Berry's Spanische Windtorte
Recipe reproduced from BBC Food
Serves 12. Prep time 1-2 hours. Cooking time over 2 hours.
For the French meringue
- 8 large egg whites
- 475g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
For the fondant violets
- 25g dark purple icing
- 25g light purple icing
- 25g yellow icing
For the swiss meringue
- 4 large egg whites
- 250g caster sugar
For the filling
- 600ml double cream
- 50g icing sugar
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 400g strawberries
- 200g raspberries
- Line 3 large (or 5 medium) baking trays with baking parchment. Draw 5 20cm circles on the parchment. Preheat the oven to 120C/100 Fan.
- Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl and whisk with an electric whisk, gradually adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time until glossy and thick.
- Using two thirds of the meringue, place into a piping bag, and using a large plain nozzle pipe two full discs into two of the circles. In the three remaining circles, pipe around the edge to make rings of meringue. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
- While the meringue is cooking, make the fondant violets. Roll three small balls (similar to orange pips) of the dark purple, and two small balls of the light purple, then flatten the balls to make petals. Arrange them as shown in the pictures, then place three very small balls of yellow icing in the middle and flatten. Repeat to make 13 violets. Leave to set for an hour.
- When the meringues have dried, slide one of the full discs onto a heatproof serving plate. Pipe with blobs of the remaining meringue, then top with a ring of meringue. Pipe more meringue onto this layer, top with another ring and repeat until all three rings are layered on top of the disc.
- Pipe the remaining meringue roughly around the sides, and then smooth until the edges and top are covered and resemble a cake. Bake for a further 45 minutes and leave to cool.
- To make the swiss meringue, place a large mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the eggs and the sugar to the bowl and whisk until the mixture reaches 70C on a sugar thermometer. Remove from heat and continue whisking until stiff and cool.
- Place swiss meringue in an icing bag and using a large star nozzle pipe decoration around the base, middle, and top of the meringue shell. Also pipe decoration around the top of the remaining disc and in the centre of the remaining disc. Put the shell and the disc in the oven for a final 30 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
- Whip the cream and sugar until it forms soft peaks. Roughly chop the strawberries, and stir the fruit and the orange blossom water through the cream.
- Fill the meringue shell with the cream mixture, top with the other meringue disc, and use small amounts of the remaining icing to stick the fondant violets to the meringue shell and disc. Serve immediately.