I am a scientist. As such, I am no stranger to using technology to solve problems. I love that so many sophisticated tools have been developed to offer us a unique way of seeing the world that has never been possible before. When you step back and look at the evolution of our technology through the course of history, you have to admit that it’s quite astonishing just how intricately all of our lives have become married to a dependency on so many complex machines. But sometimes you have to sit back and think – is it all so absolutely necessary in every aspect of our lives?
On an average night, I am usually only cooking for the two of us – I’m not a chef in a restaurant, cooking for an entire evening of customers. Nor am I preparing a giant buffet for a reception. It’s just me and my husband. And when things are small and simple, sometimes using modern technology gets in the way. For example, take the act of whipping cream. It will actually take me more time to dig out the hand mixer and assemble it, and it will make more of a mess to beat whipped cream with a mixer in my bowls than it would if I just grabbed a whisk out of the drawer and did it by hand. That’s right, I’ll say it again – for me, a collection of metal shaped into a ball is faster than an electric mixer at making whipped cream.
I first learned to make whipped cream this way when I was young, though I didn’t fully appreciate the method until later. Almost as long as I can remember, growing up in church we had a giant strawberry festival for a month in the summer, and we would raise money by selling beautiful homemade strawberry shortcakes. To this day those are some of the best strawberry shortcakes I’ve ever had. My family was volunteering to help out that day, and I got set on the task of whipping cream by a woman with a particularly distinct Scottish brogue – ha back then I thought I would never get this cream into whipped cream! But in a kid’s mind time goes differently – and a few minutes can seem like an eternity. Now, a few minutes is nothing. Whipped cream with a whisk is easy. Maybe even easier than with a mixer. Did I mention it’s one less dish to wash too?
Sometimes, embracing our luddite tendencies (come on, you all know you have a few, even if you don’t want to admit it!) is not such a bad thing. Making whipped cream by hand, my friends, is not hard. You put a whisk in a bowl of cream and you beat it. You don’t even need a lot of strength, as cream won’t give you much resistance. In about 5 minutes, I have a bowl of beautiful peaks, whipped exactly to the stiffness I want. In fact, I have complete control over the type of whipped cream I make. I don’t have to guess when the mixing is done because I’ve been directly involved in the whipping process the entire time. When it comes to whipped cream, I’ll probably never drag out another mixer again.
Now egg whites on the other hand, are a different story. If you want to make meringues by hand, be prepared for a workout. In fact, whipping up egg whites should be counted as a valid form of aerobic exercise. Egg whites have more surface tension than cream, it takes more effort to whip them. Whipping egg whites by hand took a good 15 minutes for 2 eggs. And not 15 minutes of “oh look I’m whipping egg whites with a whisk – isn’t this lovely!” but rather, 15 minutes of “omg I think my arm is going to fall off because I’m whipping these literally as fast as I can and my muscles have just about fatigued ok I think I’ll call my husband in now to give myself a break!” Yep, he can attest to the fact that egg whites take a lot of effort too
But, I think it’s good to do things by hand every now and then. It makes you appreciate the work it actually takes to create some dishes. I’m not giving up on egg whites by hand. I think in my world with so much relying on technology, I need something that doesn’t, where I can work with my hands. There is an intangible fulfillment that comes from such creations, and I suspect this is yet another reason why I love to cook.
Adapted and Inspired by Lucullian Delights
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
handful of fresh berries, cut or not depending on how you like them
1. Preheat oven to 300F. Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl, and hold over a just simmering water bath whisking until sugar is dissolved.
2. Remove from heat, and continue to whisk until you have nice stiff peaks that hold their shape. Spoon onto parchment paper, you should get 4 decently large individual “globs” that will be your meringues. Put in the oven and turn down to 250F, and bake for about 1 hr 15 min. They will turn a beautiful golden brown on top.
3. When done, turn off oven, but keep them in there for at least 1 hr to cool – meringue needs to cool slowly and gradually and likes the warm dry air in the oven. But because these are rather large they should stay a little soft/marshmallowy inside
4. Whisk cream in a bowl until you get whipped cream with stiff peaks. Feel free to add in a little vanilla, almond extract, whatever you like to flavor the cream.
5. Serve meringues topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Enjoy!