16 August 2009

brown sugar, how come you taste so good

I've got a bit of that Sunday night 'blah' feeling that can happen after a really good weekend. The reason for this weekend going so well was because several family members (Mum, godmother, godmother's sister) coming from afar to visit, acting as entourage for my godsister who was having her university house ball. Now that they're gone and my mind has to turn to practical things, like waking up early tomorrow for work...You know how it goes. Of course there are several cures for such feelings: make sure you live in a charming flat on Cuba Street for one thing, listen to the relentlessly sunny revival cast recording of Hair, eat tofu, absorb the happiness of those around you that the Wellington Phoenix football team actually won a game, that sort of thing. I happen to be doing all those things simultaneously right now so there's barely a moment to feel wibbly.

I spontaneously invited everyone round for dinner on Friday night. We had take-out noodles from my noodle hut of choice: Chow Mein Cube on The Terrace, plus hot chips from the excellent chippie across the road. I made a salad and they bought the wine. Pudding consisted of brown sugar meringues that I'd made that evening after work (I know, how deranged housewife am I) and two different kinds of ice cream, Kohu Road vanilla and Whittaker's Peanut Slab. It is with some pinkness of cheek that I admit my love for the peanut slab ice cream, since I had so emphatically stated that Kohu Road is the only kind of non-homemade ice cream I'd ever consider buying. Well, now I can add Whittaker's to the list. It's flipping lovely stuff.

These meringues have the edge on their paler sisters - I normally find meringues to be a bit too blatantly, in-yer-face sweet, whereas here the brown sugar gives complexity of flavour and a pleasing dark caramel taste. You could of course use something like muscovado sugar for an even more intense experience. I found this recipe in Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto family, a cookbook that persists in changing my previously held perception that all American cookbooks are unusable and ask for incomprehensible ingredients like Bisquick and half-and-half.

Brown Sugar Meringues

Adapted from Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto Family.

4 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 140 C/300 F and line a tray with baking paper. You may need two trays but I managed to squish everything onto one. This recipe is so simple you could fit it into a Twitter update. Whisk egg whites till frothy. Carry on whisking, slowly adding brown sugar till a stiff meringue forms. Drop spoonfuls onto tray, bake for an hour. You should get 16-18 out of this. And I made it with an actual whisk so don't feel like you can't either. No need for heavy machinery here.

What's really, really fun is then to take spoonfuls of ice cream and sandwich it between two meringue halves. This becomes almost impossibly sublime after a day or two when the meringues have softened slightly. It's so good you practically need to slap yourself back into reality afterwards. The contrast between cold, creamy ice cream and resolutely dry room temperature meringue is surprisingly seductive while the strong caramel of the slowly cooked brown sugar counteracts any excessive sweetness. They're aesthetically pleasing too, calling to mind those fancy macarons that you see all over the place but in a much simpler, ramshackle fashion.

It's a little difficult to really paint a picture in words how delicious this is, especially when it seems so simple. I might have to eat another so that I'm inspired into further colourful description.

If your life is like the Tom Wolfe novel Bonfire of the Vanities you might consider making your own ice cream to go with the meringues. It will drive home to your dinner guests that you are an aggressively accomplished cook. Their self esteem will wither and the only way they will be able to jump over this raised bar is by baking individual souffles at their next dinner party. Even if your life is not like a Tom Wolfe novel and does not involve making individual desserts while wearing pearls, and even though we're all well aware by now that there is perfectly sufficient stuff available on the market, making your own ice cream is not difficult. To paraphrase an argument that I often employ (if the Dire Straits were that good, surely I'd like them?) if ice cream was really that difficult then surely I wouldn't be able to achieve it.

A while ago I got it in my head that palm sugar might be a delicious ice cream flavouring. It is highly likely that I should have been focussing on spreadsheets at the time which is why the idea was not immediately acted upon. However this time of idea-incubation allowed me to also consider adding kaffir lime leaves to this icecream-in-my-mind.

Last weekend I had a crack at it, making a custard boldly infused with kaffir lime leaves and a syrup of palm sugar. The two were mixed together and frozen and I'll be honest, it actually worked. The flavours were subtle but intriguing. Not overtly limey and not wildly sugary, but both elements definitely present, cutting through the frozen custard with their unfamiliarity.

I'll give you the recipe I used - which I made up - but I'm not quite sure it's the exact final prototype yet. There was something about the texture that I wasn't entirely sure about. However Tim, with his simple rustic wisdom, said I was overthinking and he couldn't see anything wrong with it. So feel free to give it a go yourself.

Palm Sugar and Kaffir Lime Leaf Ice Cream

4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
600 mls cream
5 dried kaffir lime leaves
4 lumps of palm sugar (does this make sense? Palm sugar generally comes in rounded lumps. There might be a better way of describing it)

Heat half the cream (300mls) with the kaffir lime leaves in a pan till it's pretty hot but not boiling, just slightly wobbly. Remove from heat and let it sit for a while to allow the lime leaves to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks and brown sugar together gently, then pour the heated cream into it, still whisking. Rinse and dry the cream pan and then transfer the egg-sugar-cream mix back into the pan and heat it gently, stirring all the while, till it thickens into custard. This isn't hard at all but it can be good to have a sink full of ice cold water ready to plunge the pan into to stop it cooking. You can choose to remove the lime leaves at any stage here, but I left them in as long as possible.

Put the custard aside to cool while you put the palm sugar into a pan, and add 1/2 cup water. Heat very gently till a syrup forms. Depending on the palm sugar it may take a while to break down. The aim of this excercise is more to melt the sugar into a usable liquid rather than cook it into a caramel, if that makes sense. Once it has dissolved into liquid put it aside to cool for a little bit before whisking it into the custard (with lime leaves removed) and finally, stir in the final 300 mls cream. Sorry if this all sounds a bit complicated.

Pour into a container and freeze, stirring occasionally. It makes around 900mls which is a good, non-threatening quantity for an experimental batch like this.

Anyway it must have been pretty good because Tim and I managed to get through it in less than a week. Largely aided by the fact that it tasted so mind-blowingly smashing sandwiched between meringues. Be not afraid to try it. The instructions may not fit on a Twitter update but they're pretty straightforward.

Last night the lot of us - Tim, myself, visiting family members went to La Kasbah, a Morrocan restaurant down the Left Bank arcade of Cuba Street. It's an adorable place with a short but solid menu, gorgeously painted walls and friendly wait staff. We were all very much taken with our meals and in particular I loved the tumeric-yellow bread that came with the breads and dips. Well, I hope it was tumeric that gave it that radioactive tint. I'd love to know their recipe because it's gorgeously moreish stuff. It was a seriously lovely night and I definitely recommend it if you're looking for another BYO to add to your inventory.

The title of this blog is bought to you by: The Rolling Stones

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Where Do I Go? sung by Gavin Creel and the Tribe from the 2009 revival cast recording of Hair. It's more thematic than plot-heavy, which makes sense for a show that follows its own rules, but I have the feeling that this is currently among the best ways to spend a few hours on Broadway right now. The current Broadway cast is so full of energy and joy that even a million miles and continents away it is impossible not to love them.

Meadowlark by Patti LuPone from Patti LuPone at Les Mouches. Recorded in 1980 this is an utterly gorgeous and occasionally hilarious album.

You've Got Her In Your Pocket (live) by the White Stripes from the Blue Orchid single. Thought this song is most excellent on the album, live it just...soars.
Next time: Nigella Lawson has this chocolate Coca Cola cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess, and I thought it might be fun to switch the cola for ginger beer. It was flipping lovely, let me assure you, and you'll be finding out all about it in good time...


  1. I think I just fell in love with the idea of meringue ice cream sandwiches. Seriously, with that brown sugar... I think divine as you described it is the only way.

    I'm going to have to try this before summer escapes... good thing I have a while to go :)

  2. As someone that doesn't think twice about eating brown sugar by the handful right out of the bag, I will have to give these meringues a go.

  3. Thanks for your part in an excellent weekend Laura. The meringues were delish and we loved your new flat.

  4. Loved the meringues - and the butter cake. Love Cuba Street too. Soo many cafes and restaurants ... so little time. Ditto on the Whittakers peanut slab ice cream. What a find!

  5. These meringues look delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe :)

  6. Hmm, palm sugar in ice cream, I'll have to give it a try... Your recipe kind of reminds me of the shaved ice desserts in Malaysia. The best one I ever tried had a mound of shaved ice, with sweetened coconut milk and a generous drizzle of freshly made palm sugar syrup. swoon!

  7. Snooky Doodle: Thanks. Love the name :)

    Adam: You choose right. Meringue ice cream sandwiches are amazing.

    Marc: Me neither! It's the only way to eat.

    Viv and Mum: Thanks - was so awesome having you guys round here :D

    Karine: Thank you, hope you try them!

    Millie: That sounds swoonsome indeed :D nyum.

  8. If you're wondering who from America has spent the past two days reading your archives, it's time for me to 'fess up. :) Love your blog, and will be making these meringues. Among many many other things!

  9. I totally agree about the brown sugar meringue - gorgeous things. But now I am imagining an intensely coffee flavoured icecream with them and a chocolate coated coffee bean shoved into the middle. And I don't have any way of getting any of those things without getting out of my pyjamas and brushing my hair.

    I call the palm sugar lumps tablets or patties. I still know what you mean.

  10. Wow, both of these look fantastic! With the palm sugar lumps thing; it might be helpful if you could estimate the grams? I have only ever seen it in 500g blocks here and I am pretty sure you don't mean 4 of them. Or maybe you do, but that seems like an awful lot of sugar.

    I am having a Sunday night 'blah' feeling tonight. I don't want to go to work this week and spend the first two days in ALL DAY meetings. Waaah!

    Oh, and by the way, that peanut slab icecream sounds absolutely delicious!! If I ever come to NZ I will make it my mission to taste some of that!!

  11. Those meringues look excellent. I have made the ones from the Ottolengi cookbook before, I must dig the book out again and try to make them look as nice as yours this time!!