Friday 14 March 2008

The Egg-White Mountain...

May soon become a thing of the past, in this household!

As any regular reader here will know, the egg-white imbalance is a given, here. Always, in the fridge, can be found lurking a plastic pot, generally impressively full of egg-whites, which have accumulated over time as the result of a series of yolk-only sauces and custards, crèmes and mayonnaise. If I'm particularly lax about reducing the EWM, then I occasionally find myself separating eggs and merely letting the whites slide down the drain - which really goes against the grain.......but it's either that, or else starting a second pot in the fridge. And that would be a Very Bad Idea. (Yes, I know they freeze wonderfully well, too, but ditto; already the elephants' graveyard approach towards use of the deep freeze means regular archaeological expeditions with an ice-pick, and I have no intention of adding ice-cubes of frozen egg-white to the existing Polar Challenge!)

The search for uses for Egg-White has been ongoing for many years. Generally, default mode for dealing with the Mountain is either egg-white-only cheese soufflé, or else its chocolate equivalent. In summer, when one's mind turns to those things, there are certain sorbets which use only egg-white: Pear is particularly good, as is grapefruit - but they tend to fall from mind as soon as we get into autumn, and the idea of refreshing sorbets goes into hibernation until the following summer. There are some desserts which call for more egg-white than yolk - the best of which that I can think of being the triple Chocolate Terrine, which is an excellent (if slightly time-consuming way) of making inroads. But the fact remains that supply outpaces demand, and I still find myself occasionally and guiltily just chucking egg-whites away. I once tried egg-white frittata - about which the least said the better - and I've recently been researching almond biscuits, which use only egg-white......for which both Anne Willan and Jane Grigson have methods, quite different from each other, which both seem worth trying. Except that I'm not really a great maker of biscuits, as a rule.

However, on the egg-white front, there's been a breakthrough! Meringues, which have been off the list for years now, on the basis of their stratospheric calorie and carbohydrate content - and thus inimical to the waistline - have suddenly made an unexpected re-appearance. All due to some research on the the use of Splenda, in place of sugar. I first started using the stuff three or four years ago, on the basis that - unlike other artificial sweeteners - it retained its sweetness during cooking. It works perfectly well for general baking. The problem is, that it doesn't replicate the texture of Sugar in the way it behaves under heat, and so is completely hopeless for things where this matters, like sugar syrups (for making sorbets) and custards (for making ice-cream), and particularly meringues. Made with Splenda they are a complete disaster, and just end up a chalky gooey mess!

Taking a lead from the manufacturers of Splenda, however, who have come up with a commercial half-and-half version which is 50% Splenda and 50% sugar, I made my own half-and-half and tried this in Meringues the other day......Success! Obviously, the texture requirement for meringues is satisfied with less than the full amount of the sugar specified in the recipe, and Splenda then makes up for the shortfall in sweetness. Even at 50% the normal amount of sugar, though, the dietary soundness is still a bit iffy for very regular use, so I will experiment in future with further reducing the amount of sugar actually needed within the 'half-and-half' combination that will still react in the way I want it to.....

But, as it stands, the prospect of being able to get rid of say, another eight egg whites once a week or so, looks to me like light at the end of the tunnel!

And before I get accused of doing a Delia and shamelessly promoting branded products, I'd be happy if somebody could name another artificial sweetener that can be used in this way. Until there's another similar product around, it looks like Splenda has the field to itself....

If you're tempted to try it for yourself, I found that in practice it was necessary to prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon during cooking in order for the meringues to dry properly, and I also left them in there for almost twice as long as I would have normally thought necessary. The end result, though, was perfect!

Tonight's Dinner:

Chicken & Herb Salad.

Pork Belly, slow-roast with Garlic & Star-Anise; roast Celeriac.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Tart, in a dark chocolate crust.

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