Making Swiss Meringue

Swiss meringue is a thick, marshmallow-like confection that can be baked in shapes, used as a base for buttercream, it even makes a handy dessert topping. It holds well, pipes beautifully and since it’s pre-heated before it’s even whipped, carries little (if any) risk of food borne illness. Did I mention it’s really, really easy to make too?

One of the basic rules of meringues is that the earlier you add the sugar, the denser and more stable the meringue will be. With Swiss meringue the sugar is combined with the egg whites in the very first step, so you can draw your own conclusions. A basic recipe is:

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Making Egg Wash

Since the simplest things can often cause great confusion it seems well worth doing a proper tutorial on the subject of egg wash. I should say straight out that while I am aware of all the possible additions to an egg wash, I’m not a big believer in the benefits of that alchemy. Unless you’re very much into the minute details of presentation — and I’m clearly not — a simple wash made of well-beaten whole egg plus a dash of salt will do you for most any job. Multi-ingredient washes made from egg, cream, water with a dash of sugar…homey don’t play dat. Here’s what I do: crack an egg.

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Making White Cake Layers

White layers are gorgeous — and very “spring-like” — especially when accompanied by a light-colored frosting and filling (I’m thinking especially of a citrus curd of some kind). Making them is no more difficult that making any other one-bowl-type cake layer. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and assembling your ingredients. Sift the cake flour into your mixer bowl:

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White Layer Cake Recipe

White cake lovers treasure the image of grandma gently folding a mound of whipped egg whites into a rich, buttery batter. Unfortunately it’s whipped whites that are the cause of what a lot of people don’t like in white cake: dryness. Or, if those egg white bubbles pop en masse, density. Plus dryness. Which is really no good for anybody. Nope, when it comes to white cake the “two-stage” or “one bowl” method is really the only way to go. You’ll need:

10 ounces (scant 2 1/4 cups) cake flour
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) soft butter
5 egg whites
8 ounces (1 cup) milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or for fun, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. almond)

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Hot Water Pie Dough

The Brits make several kinds of pie crusts, all of them wetter than American-style pie crusts (though they sometimes make those too). This one is sometimes called a “hot water” crust — though “hot fat” is more accurate — and is specifically for meat pies. It contains:

7 ounces leaf lard, rendered
2 ounces water
2 ounces milk
17 ounces all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons salt

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Quick Sidetrack: Banana Cake

I had a sudden request to provide a birthday cake for a party for a banana-loving 2-year-old. How do you say no to that? This recipe is virtually identical to my mother’s banana bread, just re-engineered a bit to make it more “cake”-like. I took away one of the three bananas (since bananas are dense) and a third of the flour. I also changed to a layer cake mixing method since a tight, uniform crumb is one of the defining features of cake. The formula now goes like this:

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Easy Marzipan

The truth is that sometimes I just don’t have time to go for the gold and make my own marzipan from scratch (i.e. from almonds). However there’s still value in doing it yourself, even if your base ingredient is store-bought almond paste. It just tastes better. All you need to do is combine an 8-ounce can of almond paste with 7 ounces (1 3/4 cups) of powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle.

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