Pistachio-Rosewater Meringues (and another year on Earth)


I'm hooked on the (relatively new and critically acclaimed) HBO show Girls. The younger-me identifies with the show's main character who lives a post-college life in New York City and grapples with life's ebbs and flows, self-doubt, job insecurity and budget crunching. And while the show takes me down memory lane just a bit, as I watch it I find myself being thankful that I am, in fact, a little bit older. I occasionally grumble about moving out of the 25-34 age demographic, but I wouldn't want to go back (not that you can anyway). I like this station of life.
I've thought long and hard about my politics and core beliefs. I've considered (at great lengths) what's important to me and what really isn't a priority anymore. I've re-evaluated and re-assessed. Emotional stability and self-confidence, which eluded me somewhat in my twenties, I've been able to find in my mid-(ahem, late) thirties.  
I'll admit that every now and again I'm stuck by the desire to hunt down some one from my past and shout out, "Hey, remember me? I'm not a mess anymore! I've got it together! I'm an adult!" But those moments are few and far between, as I'm not looking for anyone's validation in the way that I might have been a decade ago. That's the benefit of age. 
Which brings me to my birthday meringues...
 
I first tasted these Pistachio-Rosewater Meringues at a dinner party a few years ago. My friend Yana had us over for an Ottolenghi-Middle-Eastern-inspired feast. The meal was spectacular and it was capped off by these little beauties: sweet, light, delicate and delicious, meringues.
I'd always wanted to make them at home, but I didn't know the first thing about baking. And I was certain that I would mess them up if I even tried. So I never did. 
But several years have passed and I'm a bit older and a bit wiser. I'm also fairly confident in the kitchen. When I saw rosewater at my local market, I decided to pick up a bottle. I knew then and there that those meringues were getting made in the not-so-distant future.
I made them last night and they came out perfectly. I also discovered that while they might appear challenging to make, the ingredients are simple and the preparation is straight-forward. 
My take-way from the meringue success, and using it as a metaphor for the next year of my life, is this: Have the confidence to try new things and don't let prospect of failure stop you in your tracks. You've got it together. You know who are. That is the gift of age. Enjoy it and happy birthday (to me). 



The sugar began to caramelize pretty quickly, so I had to start again. I've since learned from a CCN contributor that Denverites (or those cooking at altitude) should use a thermometer and heat the oven 10 degrees lower than the suggested temperature, as Denver's boiling temperature is 10 degrees lower than what you'll find at sea level.



Pistachio-Rosewater Meringues 
Inspiration and combination from Yotam Ottolenghi's eponymous cookbook, Ottolenghi. With some adaptions from the Joy of Baking and the Guardian UK. See additional links below.
Yields 12-16
Ingredients
1 cup of granulated sugar (I used white, not caster)
4 egg whites (Cold eggs are easier to separate. Once they are separated, cover the egg whites and let them come to room temperature before using, about 30 minutes.) 
*In general, the ratio for meringues is 1/4 cup of sugar/per egg white. 
1 1/4 teaspoons of rosewater or orange blossom water
A big handful of pistachio nuts, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Spread the sugar evenly over a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Put the tray in the oven for 8 minutes or until the sugar is hot and starting to dissolve at edges, but not caramelized. (See photo note above if you live in Denver.)
2. While the sugar is in oven, put the egg whites in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. When sugar is almost ready, turn mixer on high and let it work for a minute or until the egg whites start to froth.
3. Carefully pour the sugar into the whisked whites (I used the parchment paper as a funnel and poured the sugar in that way). Add the rosewater (or orange blossom water) and continue whisking on high for 10 minutes or until the meringue is beautifully smooth, and holds a shape.
4. Reduce the oven temperature to 225F** Important step. 
5. Line a baking tray or two with parchment paper (the one you just used for the sugar is fine). And spread the pistachios on a board and finely chop them.
6. Get two big kitchen spoons. Use one spoon to scoop up a big ball of the meringue, and use the other spoon to scrape it off and gently roll the ball into the pistachios. Place the meringues nuts-up on the baking tray. Repeat this step.
7. Place the meringues in the oven and bake for 2 hours. Rotate the baking sheet every 1/2 hour. Check to see if they're done. They should be dry on the outside and soft on the inside.  
Store the meringues in a dry place at room temperature. 
Note: Some recipes suggest that you leave the meringues in the oven for another 4 hours--with the temperature off (this is after the initial 2 hours of baking is complete). I didn't do this (I baked them for 2 hours at 225F) and I thought the texture was spot-on.
  
I came across this Guardian link on "How to Make Perfect Meringues" which offers up some more guidance on all things meringue. 

The Daily Dish/LA Times weighs in on the subject. 


And some notes from The Joy of Baking (though I didn't use cream of tartar): 
There are a few things to keep in mind when making meringue cookies. The standard ratio when making hard meringues is 1/4 cup (50 grams) of granulated white sugar for every egg white. This amount of sugar is needed to give the meringue its crispness. Adding the sugar gradually to the egg whites ensures that the sugar completely dissolves and does not produce a gritty meringue. Cream of tartar is used in the whipping of egg whites to stabilize them and allows them to reach maximum volume. Also, it is a good idea to use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line your baking sheets, not wax paper, as the meringue will sometimes stick to wax paper.
Baking the meringues in a slow oven allows for gradual evaporation of the moisture from the meringues. If the oven temperature is too high, the outside of the meringue will dry and set too quickly. You will also notice that the outside of the meringue separates from the inside. Another indicator that your oven is too high is when the meringue starts to brown which causes the sugar to caramelize. If this happens, lower the temperature about 25 degrees F. If you decide to make meringues on a rainy or humid day, you will probably have to bake the meringues longer (could be up to 30 minutes more) than on a dry day. Lastly, to prevent cracking of the meringues, do not open the oven door during the first half of the baking time.