Egg Files VII Transcript

Sophisticated Restaurant

GUEST: Waiter

    [AB is dressed in a suit, dining at a nice restaurant] American cuisine has come a long way in the last 20 years, no question. But, if you want to experience true elegance, sophistication, and subtlety on the dessert side of the plate, well, you'd better charge up the old time machine, my friend, because we've done missed the boat. I mean, these days, it's all Death by Chocolate this, and Chili-Caramel-Bacon Sundae that. But you know, back in the '20s and '30s it was ... oh-oh, here's the cart now [dessert cart is wheeled into view]:

WAITER: Might the gentleman be interested in a taste of dessert this evening?
AB: The gentleman would be interested in dessert, morning, noon, and night. What'cha got?
W: First we have the classic baked alaska, each and every bite hot, cold and delicious. Here we have les œufs à la neige, ...

    Which of course means "eggs on snow."

W: Très français, monsieur. Also tonight, we have something new from Australia, pavlova. A crisp, yet chewy meringue, with fruit and clotted cream. Next we have our chocolate mousse cake...
AB: Pause program! [the scene freezes, except for AB]

    Let's just hold up right there, okay? Now, consider the first three desserts, all right? Each is an elegant edible, from a certainly more genteel age, each based upon a meringue, each now all but extinct. And that is a shame, because the magical marriage of egg white, sugar, and air, known as meringue, goes by yet another name ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

The Kitchen

    As previously stated, a meringue is an egg foam, into which sugar has been worked. But it should be noted that if you were to remove the sugar, the egg whites would still create a foam, a foam being, of course, nothing but a very large collection of very, very small bubbles. [looking over a box of props] Now we have fabricated many models through the years in assorted forms and flavors, in an effort to illustrate various characteristics of the egg's multi-faceted personality. Wow, this is from, huh, season three. But, until this very moment, I do not believe that we have had in our possession an adequate analogy to convey why it is that an egg white, which is 90 percent water, will foam, while 100 percent water will not, no matter how darned hard you try.
    Behold, the perfect ovum analog. [reveals a gumball machine filled with toy packages] Just stick with me here a minute, okay? Let's say that this is a microscopic view of an egg white, all right? Where you see the air spaces inside, that's water, and these capsules, balled up proteins, which, again, only take up 10 percent of the mass. Now here's the cool part. [dispenses a toy package] Okay, as we all know, proteins are really just long chains of amino acids that are all balled up on themselves in their natural state. Now we're just going to pretend for a moment that these pipe cleaners [inside the toy capsule] are those long chains, all right? Now what's captivating about this is that not all of the amino acids are the same. Some are hydrophilic, that is, water-loving, while others are hydrophobic, or water-strongly-disliking.
    Now, in the wadded-up form, the hydrophilics are on the outside, while the hydrophobics are deep within. Now when we denature this structure, by beating the tar out of it with a ... [a mace swings in] ... actually, I was thinking of a whisk, actually. Many of the molecular bonds that hold the chains into a wad will be broken. And the mass will kind of spread out thusly. The proteins, with continued beating, will tangle up, in a process we call coagulation.
    Now, what in the world does this have to do with bubbles? Well just because the proteins have denatured and coagulated doesn't mean that their hydrophilic or hydrophobic characteristics have been lost. Some parts of this structure still like being stuck in water, and others would much prefer to be stuck out into the air. Marry that with the fact that water molecules love themselves so much that, well ... [at a car hood in the kitchen] ... when placed upon a hydrophobic surface, such as a freshly waxed car hood, they bead thusly. A phenomenon referred to as surface tension. The resulting structure, logically, is ...
    [at the blackboard] ... a spherical structure known far and wide as a bubble. Hydrophilic aminos are in the walls, here, whereas the hydrophobic components are facing either the air outside or the air inside. Either way, you've got yourself a big old bubble. And what's curious is that once formed, the more you beat on this structure, the more it simply subdivides, creating more and more smaller, smaller bubbles, until eventually you've got yourself a foam. The problem is, it's not very stable, and baking makes it even worse. Because once the water cooks out, there aren't enough proteins behind to keep the form together. Luckily there is a substance that will strengthen this structure, lending considerable flavor at the same time.
    [at the sink] I speak, of course, of the disaccharide, sucrose, sugar. Sugar is hygroscopic so it holds water inside the bubble structure, even when cooked. The sugar molecules also provide adhesion, literally holding the foam together. Now how much sugar we integrate and how we invite it to the party greatly affects the nature of the final foam, and therefore, its culinary viability.

    [at the blackboard] The baking world generally recognizes the existence of three basic meringues. French, or uncooked, Swiss, or cooked, and Italian, or syrup cooked. Now we will begin with the uncooked, which is perfectly suited to the delectable dessert known as pavlova.


    [maps decends] Which just so happens to be the national dessert of Australia. Now some say that pavlova is how Russell Crowe porked up for his role in "Body of Lies," but the star couldn't be reached for comment. Ironically, neither Crowe nor pavlova are Australian, as they were both conceived in New Zealand. Wellington, in fact, where the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova toured in 1926.
    Now historians say that a popular fruit-filled meringue cake developed during colonial days when eggs were plentiful but flour was not, was re-christened in Pavlova's light and airy honor. So, the pavlova is a unique dessert that remains 100 percent Kiwi, even when it's filled with another fruit.

AB: Up map.

    [at the oven] Now, a proper pavlova is characterized by a crisp, crunchy exterior, and a spongy, almost marshmallowy interior. And the best way to get that is to use a light French-style meringue in a relatively cool oven, 250 degrees in fact.

250 Degrees

    Next, the pavlova platform. Place a sheet pan in front of you, line that with parchment paper, and then trace anything that is round and nine inches in diameter. I'm using a cake pan, but you can use a plate if you like. A pencil is fine, but you might want to flip it over so you don't eat any graphite.
    [at the refrigerator] Next, the eggs. Regardless of which type of meringue you are assembling, you're better off with fresh eggs, which are easier to separate and slightly acidic. Alright. Those extra hydrogen ions help egg proteins stay attracted to each other. More on that in a bit. [a siren sounds] Oh, yes, although I get my eggs from a local farm, and don't fret about salmonella, if you're ovum supply is in any way suspect, you'll want to use pasteurized eggs. Because most of today's applications will not, I repeat, will not be cooked to a sufficient temperature to guarantee the death of all pathogenic life forms that might be included. The choice, of course, is yours, and I, for one, trust you will choose wisely.

Meringue was called sugar puff in the 17th century.

The Kitchen

    For those of you who still suffer from separation anxiety, here it is again. Sing along if you know the tune: Three vessels, each alike in dignity. Crack egg into the middle, that's the quarantine bowl. Separate the yolk thusly. I like to use the shell here. Inspect the white for yolk bits, which would definitely throw off the meringue, and then move over into the holding vessel. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Quarantine bowl insures no yolk contamination.

    So, the whites, and a pinch of salt go into the bowl of your favorite stand mixer. Now whisk this on high until stiff peaks form. Now if you're using fresh eggs, this is going to take maybe a minute, while pasteurized eggs will take four to five, because their proteins are already partially coagulated. But, your patience will be rewarded, as the pasteurized product delivers an equally stable foam. 4 Ounces Pasteurized Egg
Pinch Of Salt
    [later] Okay, those are stiff peaks. Now we're going to start the machine again, but decreasing the speed to medium. Then work in six ounces of sugar over about a two minute period. Now if you're in a really big hurry, you could spin the sugar ahead of time in a food processor just to make it finer, but I don't usually bother. All right, the sugar's going to dissolve into the water phase of the foam, lending some structural support, and ensuring water retention. Think of the sugar as, I don't know, the preacher uniting the proteins and the water in, I don't know, pastry matrimony. Increase the speed to high until the mixture is smooth and very glossy. 6 Ounces Sugar
    When glossiness is attained, it's time for the second wave of software, beginning with half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, half a teaspoon of white vinegar, and a teaspoon of cornstarch. And I like to introduce this with a little hand sieve to get the lumps out. There. ½ tsp. Vanilla Extract
½ tsp. White Vinegar
1 tsp. Cornstarch

    Now the vanilla is for flavor, but both the cornstarch and vinegar are there to bolster the structure, and the acid will help to keep the protein structure tight. The starch will soak up any liquid that might attempt to run out. This is necessary because the pavlova doesn't so much bake as dry out, and that takes time.
    Gently transfer the fluff right to the middle of the circle, and kind of smooth out with a large spoon or a spatula in kind of a disc shape. Push it right on out to the pencil mark. And then kind of nudge some of the foam out of the middle, creating just a little bit of a crater for the filling to come.
    [at the oven] Bake for 45 minutes, again, at 250.
    [45 minutes later] All right, after 45 minutes, kill the oven, and allow the pavlova to just sit in the oven for three solid hours, during which time you should not open the door, and you should not turn on the lights. [the oven light comes on] I said don't turn on the lights! [light goes off] That's better.
    Then, open the door and let the meringue cool completely, say about half an hour before removing, and here's the thing. Some ovens have very strong, very hot lights on the inside. You want to make sure those are off, so retrieve a bit of sticky tape—in my case, duct tape, never go anywhere without itand find the little door trigger and just tape it down to keep the lights off during the cooling process.
    [with the pavlova out of the oven] Tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, your meringue should keep for two to three days. But whatever you do, do not dress it until you are ready to serve. Now when that time comes, the possibilities are endless. But I'm a traditionalist, so I am going to depend upon the discouragingly ugly, but undeniably delicious interior of the purple passion fruit. Four of them, in fact.
    Now the passion fruit is technically South American, but the purple variety has been commercially grown around Auckland, in New Zealand [map descends], since the 1930s. Now, I'm not a historian, but if I had been a smart, young P.R. guy back then, trying to promote a fruit that looks like this on the inside, I might just slap it on an already popular dessert and rename it after a very attractive Russian dancer. Am I saying that I suspect the passion fruit industry actually gave birth to the pavlova? Yes, and you heard it here on Good Eats first.

AB: Map up.

    Traditionally, the passion fruit filling would simply be dumped into the middle of the crater and everything would be topped with whipped cream. I think that's kind of nasty, so what I like to do is fold the passion fruit filling into the whipped cream and then apply thusly. Just basically dump it on, smooth it out and then, if you like, top with a little more passion fruit. Very nice. 1 Cup Whipped Cream +
Pulp From 4 Passion Fruit
    [back at the blackboard] We move now to an example of the cooked, or Swiss meringue, which differs from our first meringue in two significant ways:
1. The sugar is mixed with the egg whites before whipping.
2. The mixture is gently cooked to 140 degrees, allowing it to take advantage of two scientific facts:
1. The sugar is mixed with the egg whites before whipping.
2. The mixture is gently cooked to 140 degrees, allowing it to take advantage of two scientific facts:
1. Hot water can hold more sugar in solution than cold, and:
2. Egg whites containing dissolved sugar can be whipped into firmer, more finely textured foams.
1. Hot water can hold more sugar in solution than cold, and:
2. Egg whites containing dissolved sugar can be whipped into firmer, more finely textured foams.

    The perfect application, œufs à la neige, "eggs on snow", a frabjous French concoction wherein poached egg-shaped meringues float serenely upon a placid pool of crème anglaise. A very, very elegant, yet user-friendly dish, as long as you break the construction down into three phases.

Oeufs a la Neige is often misidentified as "Floating Islands".

The Kitchen

    Phase one, the poaching liquid. Two tablespoons of sugar, and one split-and-scraped vanilla bean, joins three cups of whole milk in a two-quart saucier, if you've got one. If not, a skillet will do as a saucepan would be far too narrow. Now I'm going to bring this to a simmer over high heat, and then drop the BTUs to maintain a temp of 180 to 190 for poaching, and yes, a candy thermometer would be a good idea, if you have one. 2 Tbs. Sugar
1 Split & Scraped Vanilla
3 Cups Whole Milk

    Meanwhile, phase two. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a four-quart saucepan. Then combine eight ounces, by weight, of sugar, with four ounces of egg whites in the work bowl of your stand mixer. Now, we need to bring this mixture up to 140 degrees. You just park it over the simmering water. Believe it, that will be warm enough for the water and the egg whites to hold onto that sucrose. So all you can do at this point is stand here and whisk, and whisk, and whisk, and whisk. Of course, the truth is, there's another option, if, for instance, you have one of these. That's right, a big old hair dryer, and, of course, one of these. [shows a hair dryer bonnet with flexible hose] This is the secret weapon, all right? Yeah, yeah, this is like a $10 attachment. You can buy this at any beauty store. You put one end of the hair dryer and you know. Women like maybe to wear that on the... Oh, you know where I'm going with this, come on.
    So place your hair dryer some place safe and secure, I'm using a banana hanger, I used to think it was a uni-tasker, now it's a multi-tasker. Connect the bonnet, turn the hair dryer to low heat, and look. That bonnet fits right on the bowl [of the stand mixer] which will get nice and hot.

    Now add eight ounces of granulated sugar, and four ounces of egg whites. Pasteurized would be good. That's three to four large eggs' worth, and turn to medium speed. 8 Ounces Sugar
4 Ounces Pasteurized Egg

    All right, we're looking for 140 degrees. Now you can stop the machine every now and then and check the mixture with an instant-read thermometer, or, you can invest in one of these sweet babies. [shows an infrared thermometer] I'll be back.
    [later] There, 140.2. Now kill the heat, and whisk on high until stiff peaks form: five minutes for fresh eggs, seven for pasteurized. [removes the heating hood in the process]
    Now our poaching liquid is at 183, and all it needs to be is between 180 and 190. So use a 1.5 ounce disher to basically spoon egg-like meringues into the liquid, poach for three minutes, flip, poach another three, and then remove to a tea towel to cool, and they can stay there for, well really, as long as you like. There.

    Now, as for the sauce, whisk together four ounces of egg yolks with two tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl. And you will need to add just a pinch of kosher salt. There. Now whisk this until it is very, very smooth, and there is no sign of granularity at all. Kind of like that. Then, slowly drizzle in a third to a half of the milk mixture, whisking continuously. Then place the milk mixture back onto low heat, and whisk the egg mixture into it, constantly whisking. You're going to let this cook for several minutes, or until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. There. 4 Ounces Pasteurized Egg
    Yolks + 2 Tbs. Sugar
Pinch Of Kosher Salt
    Then you're going to shock it down by placing a bowl in an ice bath. Use a strainer, just in case there are clumps, and of course to get the vanilla bean out. Chill it down, place it in a bowl, add the meringues, top with some pistachios for color and crunch, and serve. 1/3 Cup Pistachios, Chopped

    [reading from the factious book "American Culinary History"] On October 18, 1867, a bill was signed finalizing the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia. The deal was negotiated by New York Senator William H. Seward. And to honor him, Chef Charles Ranhofer, of Delmonico's Restaurant, served up a dish called "Seward's Folly," which was later re-dubbed "Alaska Florida," and finally, "Baked Alaska." It stands today as a classic juxtaposition of unrelated culinary forms, which depends on the candy-like, yet highly durable, cooked Italian meringue, which is constructed with a hot syrup rather than granulated sugar.

Early European cooks beat egg whites with birch twigs
and created a dish they called snow.

The Kitchen

    All right, line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with plastic wrap and work in a quart and a half of the ice cream of your choice. I'm going to go with a high-end strawberry, because it's darn tasty, and the color will contrast nicely with the meringue to come. 1½ Quarts Ice Cream
    Next, you're going to cut yourself a piece of sheet cake to fit the pan, all right? Now a chiffon cake would be good, as would a génoise, anything flexible. Oh, and it shouldn't be over an inch thick, okay? Press the cake down into the ice cream. Try to make sure there are no big air pockets, and then fold the plastic over this way and this way. There. Place in the freezer for a minimum of one hour. Chiffon Cake, Cut Into
    9 x 5 x ½ Inch Piece
    [at the stovetop] Place eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of water, and four ounces of light corn syrup in a two-quart saucepan, over high heat. Once dissolved, put on your thermometer and shoot for 240 degrees. 8 Ounces Sugar
2 Ounces Water
4 Ounces Light Corn Syrup
    [at the stand mixer] Combine four ounces of egg whites with a pinch of kosher salt, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Then boost the speed to high and beat until you just reach medium peaks. That's going to take maybe two minutes for fresh eggs, four to five for pasteurized. There, those are medium peaks. They stand up, but they flop over pretty easily. 4 Ounces Pasteurized Egg
Pinch of Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Vanilla Extract

    Now, let's get the syrup. Two hundred and forty degrees, perfect.
    Okay, mixer goes to low and you want to carefully drizzle the syrup into the eggs, being careful to avoid the whisk and the side of the bowl. If any syrup hits there, it's going to just turn solid like little bits of glass, not good eats. Now just take your time on this, and if you start to notice that there looks like the foam is starting to deflate, boost the speed just a little bit and that will pick things up again. All right, once the syrup is all in, beat on high until stiff peaks are attained, and the mixture has cooled to the touch. Expect eight to ten minutes, tops. Now let's take a look. Yep, I'd call that stiff.
    All right, now the fun part. Make yourself a cutting board in the shape of Alaska. Well, you don't have to do that, but, I had some spare time. And then retrieve the loaf pan. Turn out the loaf pan, peel off the plastic, carefully. Now, the meringue, just dump everything right on top of the ice cream. It's going to be kind of like frosting a cake. You want to get everything on, and then turn it, working down the sides. Obviously a turntable is helpful here, but you don't have to have it. Now try to get even coverage, but don't try to smooth things out. In fact, you want to have a lot of little divots and peaks and valleys, because that is what will brown.
    [at the oven] Speaking of browning, you know most applications call for placing the baked Alaska underneath the broiler. But since residential broilers are well, wimpy, I rely on alternative fire power. [fires a propane torch]
    All right, brown the edges of the meringue as quickly as you can, and keep the flame constantly moving. But do not worry about melting the ice cream inside. Foams, like meringue, are very good insulators. Perfect.
    Mmm, now at this point you could refreeze for a couple of hours, or just go ahead and slice and serve.
    Well I hope that we've inspired you to drop all those "Death-by-Caramel-Bake-a-Cakes," and get into the subtle, smooth vibe of meringues. Once you have confidently conquered these classics, the entire meringue landscape will open up to you, and once again you will marvel at exactly how good the eats from an egg white can be. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 09/30/2011