For the longest time, I used to say that the only thing a vegan baker can’t reproduce is meringue. Egg replacers in cake, mousse, batter and pancakes are easy, but meringue? Not really. When I wrote ‘Divine Vegan Desserts’ I included a kind of faux meringue made from ‘No-Egg’, but it really didn’t have the texture or taste of the real thing.
But now…thanks to tireless experimentation by vegan chefs around the world, we now have the perfect meringue ingredient at our fingertips. I’m guessing that, right now, you have a can of chick peas, butter beans or cannelini beans in your pantry? Or, if not, you could acquire some easily and cheaply? And that’s the magic ingredient – not the beans themselves, but the gloopy, slimy liquid they come in. The stuff you normally drain away down the sink. How fantastic is that!
This ‘bean water’, which has been more glamorously renamed ‘aquafaba’, was brought to the vegan culinary world by the trials and errors of Goose Wohlt and Joel Roessel. You can check out this Facebook group for more information and discussion: Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses
You can use aquafaba to replace egg white in pretty much anything you’d normally use eggs for, but the most impressive is definitely meringue.You will need a hand-held or stand mixer, with metal beaters or whisk attachment to make the meringue. You could do it by hand with a whisk, but it will be very hard work!
The first time I tried whipping up chickpea juice and icing sugar, I felt like dancing. Just look at what happened…
1) Chickpea water and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (not essential but they say it helps the meringue to hold firmer).
2) After just a few minutes whipping – soft peaks.
3) After adding the first 1/4 cup sugar – getting thicker.
4) After all the sugar has been added – firm peaks.
5) They piped really well – and kept their shape in the oven.
The first experiment was just basic, crispy meringue, the kind that you would use for pavlova, or for crumbling on top of ice cream. They worked really well, but I discovered that if you leave them for the next day, they tend to go sticky and soft. Moral of the story, share and eat them all on the day they are made!
The first lemon meringue pie wasn’t so amazing, I tried the Italian meringue recommended on the Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses Facebook page, but it was more complicated than regular meringue and, again, went gooey the next day. I also tried two different lemon fillings and didn’t like either of them, they were too sweet, not lemony enough and too runny.
The second attempt went much better. I altered the lemon filling recipe to be tarter and thicker, made the pastry using gluten-free flour and no sugar in an attempt to offset the large amount of sugar in the meringue, and went back to regular meringue (French meringue as it’s called). I also made small tartlets instead of a big pie, because one of the problems of the earlier pie was the filling all oozing out when cut.
This is how they looked.
The meringue was still pretty good the next day (because it has a softer texture than crispy meringue) – and they tasted amazing! Why not try the recipe out? It’s easy and fun.
Lemon meringue pie
Gluten Free Pastry
3/4 cup (100 g) tapioca flour
1/3 cup (50 g) chickpea (besan) flour
1/2 cup (70 g) brown rice flour
2 tablespoons (20 g) buckwheat flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 g) home-made vegan butter or dairy-free spread, such as Nuttelex
2-3 tablespoons water
Sift the flours together. Rub in the fat until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water to the flour gradually, mixing with a palette knife or your fingers, until it becomes a workable dough. Cover and chill for an hour or so, but don’t leave in the fridge for too long or it could become brittle and crumbly.
150g (about half a pack) soft silken tofu
½ cup organic raw sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1/3 cup (80 ml) lemon juice (roughly 2 lemons)
2 rounded tablespoons (30g) cornflour
pinch Himalayan salt
½ cup water
½ cup aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas or cannellini beans)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
¾ cup icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla
Oven 180°C then 100°C
Roll out the pastry to about 3-4 mm thick and use to line patty pans, or a large pie dish. Prick the base with a fork and bake blind for 7-8 minutes until it loses its transparent look, but doesn’t go brown. Remove the pie shell from the oven and cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 100°C.
Meanwhile, mix all filling ingredients in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring all the time. It will gradually thicken, keep stirring, making sure you stir right into the corners of the pan, until nice and thick. Pour into pastry case and chill for 2 hours until firm.
Now for the exciting part – the vegan meringue!
First make sure that the bowl and beaters you are using are extremely clean, with no traces of grease as this might prevent the aquafaba from thickening properly. Put the aquafaba and cream of tartar in the bowl and start beating, until the mixture reaches the ‘soft peak’ stage ie as you lift the beaters out of the mixture, it forms a peak, but then drops back down again.
Add the sugar, ¼ cup at a time, and beating very well in between. I find sieving the sugar in helps to maintain lightness. After the last addition, the meringue should have reached ‘firm peak’ stage ie the peaks will stay up. Finally add the vanilla and beat again. It will soften a little, then firm up as you continue beating.
Pipe or spoon the meringue onto the tart. Bake at 100°C for 30 minutes, until the meringue firms up enough for you to touch it gently without collapsing.
You can eat it like this, but if you want to brown the top, put it under the grill (not too close!) for a minute or two, watching carefully all the time to prevent burning.
Chill. Do not cover or the meringue might go soft.