Saturday, August 16, 2008

Crunchy Clouds

Pin It My young friend Sunny is a fan of crunchy clouds. I told her that I could make them pink if she liked. Pink is her all time favorite hue.

“No, I like ‘em white. Like the clouds.”

“This is good,” I think to myself. Good that she doesn’t require artificial colors to make crunchy clouds (meringues to us mortals) more interesting. Also good for my hands because I walk around with my palms festooned in radioactive blues, pinks and greens whenever I use dye.

But if I made them strawberry flavored, they’d be naturally pink from the fruit. Or if I used raspberry, they’d take on a mauvey hue. Mango turns them a warm tropical orange. While blackberry is deep purple. Crunchy clouds floating in a warm pastel haze, brimming with fruity goodness.

As a not necessarily hard and fast rule, I don’t use artificial dye. I’m a pusher of sugar, butter and high octane caffeine, so I’m reticent to add to my already plush lineup of comestible sins. And I’m reasonably confident that the average customer knows what they’re in for when they suck down a croissant (about a pound of butter) or an éclair (butter, cream, more cream and sugar). But dyes are tricky little bastards. They show up in the most unexpected places. Many are already banned in Europe. My mother, smart woman that she was, banned them from our lives completely when I was a kid. This lead me to stare longingly at the Coleman's glorious collection of jewel toned cereals for hours at a time. Trix and Lucky Charms, how you spoke to me from high on that pantry shelf.

But my mom was always right (except for that time she refused to pull over, insisting it impossible that I had to pee again. I really did.). It turns out that many artificial dyes are connected to hyperactivity in kids. And the stuff is in everything, almost every packaged food, soaps, toothpastes, shampoos, sodas, macaroni and cheese. I have a harder time thinking of things that don’t have artificial dye than what does.

So I try to do my part. Using fruit purées to add a splash of color when someone wants their pastry colorful and fruity. But, like I said, it’s not a hard and fast rule. It’s pretty hard to make a field of vibrant edible Gerber daisies without a smidge of that colorful toxic juice. Sure, I could use the natural dyes made from vegetable extracts. But I’m not sure that a kid would love biting into a Borscht cupcake because that beautiful fuschia frosting was tinted with beet extract. So I pick my battles.

So if you’d like a little color in your life without the hyperactivity, here’s a recipe for raspberry crunchy clouds.  

Mauvey Crunchy Clouds

4 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup raspberry puree (I use Boiron. Many high end groceries carry these purees in the freezer section)
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 225. Place egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and about half of the puree in the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat until meringue is stiff and glossy. This can take a bit. Especially when it's humid. So be patient. If the color isn't quite as you'd like it, slowly add more puree. Making sure that the extra liquid doesn't damage the stiffness of the eggwhites.

Place the meringue in a pastry bag fit with a large star tip and pipe little dollops, about 1/4 cup size, on a parchment lined baking pan. Bake until dry, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.