Meringue, whipped with sugar, binds nuts and dried fruit/photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

 

I’m doing a lot of interviews regarding my new book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, and one question is persistent: What did I uncover that surprised me about the egg?

I was surprised—very surprised—once, and that was when I began to write about meringue. The proteins that make up the egg white have the remarkable capacity to unwind and form a kind of mesh that traps air bubbles. Once it begins to trap infinitesimal and countless bubbles, the white expands to five or more times its initial volume, becoming completely opaque and about as white as anything one can imagine.

The above photo is of nougat, a French confection of egg whites and sugar, that bind a combination of nuts and fruit (photo by Donna, of course). It’s chewy. If you were to bake the meringue it would be a crunchy, cookie-like confection. Poach it and it becomes Île Flottante, floating island. Add melted sugar and it becomes a beautiful icing. Add flour and it becomes an angel food cake. Not to mention the egg white’s capacity to enrich a cocktail or clarify a stock or bind a mousseline.

I had a high regard for the egg white to begin with. But writing this book magnified my respect to the point of astonishment. And astonishment in the kitchen is always good fortune.

 

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.