Helen, our resident foodie and chief baker, is away for the month of August. To prevent a disastrous sweet treat deficit in her absence, Claire Sandy, author of the very delicious What Would Mary Berry Do?, kindly stopped by Novelicious HQ to make a batch of lemon eggs. Cake crisis averted. For now …
Books and food are both nourishing, life affirming, delicious; food in books is an endless pleasure. I remember drooling over the custard cakes that Maggie Tulliver recalls from her childhood in The Mill on the Floss, and being grateful for the light relief that Kay Scarpetta's skill at knocking up a quick pasta puttanesca brought to various Patricia Cornwell gore-fests.
My recently published novel, What Would Mary Berry Do?, is very cake-centric and therefore very close to my heart; it practically wrote itself. The novel is crammed with baking projects, following one novice's year as she studies Mary Berry's Baking Bible and comes to realise that Mary's wise words can be applied to all areas of life, not just the kitchen.
The power of home cooking lies at the heart of the story. My heroine, Marie, overflows with love for her family, for the dog, for the world at large, but she can't express it through food because all her meringues turn to dust and all her birthday cakes implode.
Her nemesis, however, the dreaded Lucy who lives across the road, is a natural in the kitchen. And, perversely, it's one of Lucy's recipes I'm sharing today: Lemon Eggs.
Hmm. Not an inspiring title, I grant you. But I promise that if you decide to make these, you must brace yourself for plaudits. People will gasp. They will say "Ooh!" loudly. They may knight you with a ladle. Because you will have shown how much you love them (i.e. lots and lots, hopefully) and you will have amazed them and you will have fed them.
This recipe is basically a trick, a scam. When the main course is done with, you must resist your victims' guests' questions about what's for dessert. Look enigmatic. (If you can: I'm usually on my third glass by then and enigmatic-ness is quite beyond me.) And then, a few minutes later, return with … boiled eggs.
They will be puzzled. They will frown. They will be nervous, because they know about the three glasses and they know that you are perfectly capable of offering them boiled eggs for afters. But then they'll look closer, they'll notice that there is meringue foaming prettily on top of the egg. You'll encourage them to take up their spoons – delicate little spoons, if possible – and break through the meringue, to the 'yolk'. When they taste the luscious, bright yellow goo they'll realise it's not yolk, but lemon curd. My father-in-law actually yelped when he put the spoon in his mouth. And he's not a natural yelper.
So, this is a dish to enliven dull parties and make fun parties even more memorable. Here's how Marie did it in the book, how I always do it.
This makes 4 Lemon Eggs. (You'll have leftover meringue, but as "leftover meringue" are two of the nicest words in the English language, that shouldn't present a problem.)
One very clean bowl, a whisk or electric mixer, a bag for piping, egg cups for serving.
4 large eggs
250 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup of lemon curd
- Prep the eggs ahead of time. This is fiddly, so you won't want to do this with an audience, or with guests baying for pud in the next room. With a small, sharp, serrated knife, saw the tops off four large eggs. Empty their contents in to a bowl, and gently wipe the eggs' interiors. Separate the whites from the yolks and piously put the yolks in a ziploc bag, stow them in the freezer and forget all about them until the next time you clear out the freezer. (No matter what Mary and Delia and Nigella say, you and I know that's what actually happens.)
- When the main course is over, whack the oven up to 220 degrees.
- Put two of the egg whites in a bowl you have neurotically cleaned (meringues hate grease or dirt) and add 110g caster sugar. Whisk until the mixture stands up in soft, billowy peaks. Add another 140g of the caster sugar and keep whisking until the ambrosial cloud in your bowl is glossy and stiff. Now, whisk in 1 tablespoon of cornflour and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. This whole whisking orgy should take about five minutes in all. (Assuming you're using an electric whisk or a mixer; there's no room for martyrs in my kitchen.)
- Set out your egg cups. Mix 'em up, if you can, using your stripes and your spots and your "Souvenir of Eastbourne". This is the only time my egg cup with crossed legs ever comes out of the cupboard.
- Stand your beheaded empty egg shells in the cups and spoon lemon curd in to them, so that they're about 2/3 full. (You can, if you wish to show off, make your own curd.)
- Now, you need to pipe. But don't be scared. It's super-easy. Find an online tutorial if you need your hand held, and then go for it. Pipe a swirl of your glossy, majestic meringue glop on to each egg, covering the curd, and making a white domed top.
- Stand the eggs on a baking tray and put in the oven for eight minutes. You have time to dance to two pop songs/have another glass of wine or both of these things.
- The meringue should be gently bronzed. Bear them to the table, confident of the happy amazement you'll cause, the tummies you'll fill and the deep, deep, abiding joy of showing people how you feel about them through the timeless, tried and tested method of giving them good things to eat.
Photo credit: Brett Stevens