Floating on a Cloud

French Meringues with Cara Cara Orange Curd
I have many guilty pleasures. Far too many to even begin counting, so I don't bother. Plus, it takes a strong woman to look hedonism squarely in the face and soldier on. Of course, this is one of the many characteristics about me that made Mr. B swoon and fall madly in love with me. That, and I should mention, when it comes to butter and sugar and other heavenly kitchen staples, I'm a bit of a sorceress and I have no shame in unleashing a bit of magic on my man.

After days of shamelessly spooning my luscious lemon curd straight from the jar, I happened to spy a rather large bag of Cara Cara oranges while out shopping. I'm sure I've previously mentioned this, but I adore Cara Cara oranges and these pretty little jewels, I figured would make a seductive orange curd--something I hadn't made before. So into the cart the oranges went and after a pass through the dairy section for a few pounds of butter and a dozen eggs, I was quickly back home where I went to work.

When I was a girl, my mother told me that double-yolk eggs were lucky and that if I got one, it meant good things would soon happen. So, it wasn't lost on me that just about every egg that I cracked turned out to be a double-yolker and while I'm not sure what the odds are of getting so many in a row, I do know that it was a most fortuitous event, for I had been a wee bit depressed to think, upon looking at an almost full bowl of egg whites, that my future would be filled with one egg white omelette after another.

But the double-yolks saved me, for somewhere in the midst of things, I thought about billowy, light-as-air clouds of meringue and how wonderfully my silky orange curd would play against the sugary crispness of a perfectly baked French meringue. And as they say, the rest is history.

There are three types of meringue: French, Italian and Swiss and believe it or not, the French meringues are the easiest and quickest to prepare since the only cooking involved is done via the oven. Originally, meringues were shaped with a spoon, but then after some clever pastry chef began to pipe them out, well, that method became the norm. However, if you don't have a pastry bag (you can use a zip bag with the tip cut off) you can always use a spoon and then a wet offset spatula for shaping.

Basic French Meringues

6 Egg whites (make sure there is absolutely NO yolk in the white)
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (You can make your own by using regular granulate sugar and putting it in   the food processor)
3/4 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
1 T. of good vanilla (I like to use Tahitian)

1. Preheat your oven to 250ยบ
2. Separate the eggs when they are cold; it's easier that way. Then allow the whites to come to room temperature.
3. Make sure your mixing bowl is clean and completely free of any type of grease or fat; the same with the mixing attachment.
4. Beat the egg whites on medium speed until they are frothy and begin to thicken.
5. Add the cream of tartar.
6. Add the sugar, small amounts at a time (I add about 2 T. of sugar every 30 seconds; this gives the sugar a chance to dissolve so your meringues won't be gritty).
7. Continue to beat until the stiff peaks form. You can test for this by turning off the mixer and lifting the attachment.
8. Add the vanilla and continue to beat the mixture for another 1-2 minutes.
9. Pipe out, or spoon, meringue mixture onto parchment lined cookie sheets. If the parchment slips as you are working, us a small dab of the meringue under each corner of the parchment paper to hold it steady.
10. Bake, in top 1/3 and middle 1/3 of your oven for 60-70 minutes, or until firm to the touch, turning the pans once after 30 minutes and switching them around.
11. Turn off oven and open door. Allow to cool for 1-2 hours. You can also open door and then after the meringues have cooled, close the oven and leave them overnight.
12. Store cooled meringues in air-tight containers or bags.

Hints:
* For concentric circles, use the bottom of a glass and a pencil to draw circles on to the parchment. You can also draw other shapes, hearts, squares--wherever your little imagination takes you.
* You MUST make this on a day when it is dry--humidity will kill this recipe.
* As a general reminder, 1 egg white is supported by 1/4 cup of sugar, so you can modify this recipe to make a larger quantity of meringue. Consequently, figure on 1/4 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar for every 2 egg whites.
* It's a pain in the rear to load this into a pastry bag. If you curse while doing it, know that you're acting completely rationally and normal.

To make the Cara Cara Orange Curd follow my recipe for Myer Lemon Curd substituting the oranges for the lemons. You may want to add a bit more sugar (1/3 cup) as the orange zest can be a bit more bitter.

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