As an allergy mum, I have had a few disasters in the kitchen in the past couple of years, especially with desserts (understatement of the century). The most valuable lesson I have learnt is to keep it simple. The longer the list of ingredients, the more I seem to set myself to fail. Every time. Trying to figure out how to make sweet recipes vegan is what I have struggled with the most I think.
I first heard of aquafaba about a year ago. It sounds like gobbledygook, doesn’t it? It is the sort of ingredient that would normally have made me run for my life. Just trust me on this one, you should keep reading. It is life-changing (no light reading then, hey!).
If this is the first time you have heard of aquafaba, you are probably thinking it is some exotic ingredient only available in specialist shops. Please stay with me because it is not! It is commonly available and really cheap! Until a couple of months ago, I was throwing it down the drain every time I was making houmous.
Just before I reveal it all, let me show you that one ingredient, whisked. I posted a photo on Instagram in April. It was the first time I had tried whisking it.
It does look like fluffy egg whites, right?
OK, OK, no more teasing. Here it is: Aquafaba. “Aquafawhat?” Yes, you read this right: A.Q.U.A.F.A.B.A.
Aquafaba is the cooking liquid of beans or legumes like chickpeas and it is a brilliant egg replacer. Seriously! I know, it sounds odd, gross even, and I was dubious myself until I tried. ‘Healthy’ alternatives are not normally my cup of tea. My taste buds are not made for ‘free from’ food. I love ‘full of’ kind of food, but aquafaba is not a poor egg substitute, not what aspartame is to sugar. Aquafaba is the Rolls Royce of egg substitutes. There, I said it.
“How does chickpea juice work to replace eggs?” I hear you question. Well, to be truthful, I was wondering as well and here is what I found out after reading quite a lot about it. When chickpeas are cooked in water, various elements migrate from the seeds to the water in the process (proteins, starches…). Just like pasta water is great for thickening sauces, the cooking liquid of chickpeas can be used as a thickener. It can also act as a gelatine replacement (think marshmallows here), egg replacer (cakes, meringues, vegan macarons), a binding ingredient (mayonnaise, cake), or even as a base for butter or cheese.
Managing to make meringues for my little girl who is allergic to wheat, eggs and nuts is my biggest success to date in the kitchen as an allergy mum. It might even top my pancake successes (and there have been a few!). If you are egg-free or know anyone who cannot have eggs, this will change your life! No doubt about it.
Another worry I had when I started whisking was the taste. I like chickpeas, but the thought my meringues might taste like the legume was not appealing. I half-dismissed the idea, half-embraced it as I was spooning the mixture into my icing bag.
Whilst we are on that subject, if you want to make your life easy, place your icing bag in a pint glass to make filling easy and mess-free.
Meringues my little girl could try. How exciting would that be if it really worked? If it did not, all it would cost me would be a tin of unsalted chickpeas (43p) from Waitrose. I would use the chickpeas to make houmous anyway so there would be no harm done if my attempt was a failure. Let me tell you something: it was not. Our vegan meringues tasted delicious. They had a slight nutty taste, but my taste-testers all agreed they were yummy (yippee!). If you wanted to hide the hints of nuttiness, you could just add a bit of vanilla extract to the meringue.
Before I got started (sorry, I digress), I looked into it a bit (Pinterest research, évidemment!), but the simple recipes did not come out looking like ‘real” meringue nests, and other recipes went against all my principles with their silly ingredients (arrowroot powder, cider vinegar) and mentions of ‘temperamental meringues’ (does not bode well!). I used to trust pretty-looking photos of food on Pinterest, but after a few Pinterest-fails, I now trust my instincts a lot more.
After a while, I just decided to ‘freestyle’ and try to make the meringues the way I always have, taking into account advice my friend Charlotte had written about making ‘normal’ meringues (keep oven closed until meringues are cold, use a star nozzle on her piping bag). I went for 3 ingredients only: unsalted chickpea brine, caster sugar and cream of tartar (optional, but it helps make the meringues light and fluffy).
Beanie (5 years 9 months) really enjoyed piping mini meringues in between the meringue nests I was making for our pavlovas.
To make mini pavlovas, simply whisk double cream (or the creamy part of a can of coconut milk chilled overnight for a dairy-free alternative) and add sliced strawberries on top.
3-Ingredient Vegan Meringues & Vegan Pavlovas Using Aquafaba
- ¾ cup unsalted chickpea cooking liquid 150ml, aquafaba
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Optional: ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup caster sugar 200g
- Start by preheating your oven on very low (gas mark ¼ / 100°C / 210°F).
- Place the aquafaba in a large bowl. Using a handheld electric whisk, beat on the lowest speed until it gets foamy (2 minutes), then increase the speed to medium/high.
- About 2 minutes later, the foamy mixture should be getting thicker. As you are still whisking, add the cream of tartar (& vanilla extract if using it).
- Soft peaks should be starting to form. Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, the silky meringue should form stiff peaks.
- Place your piping bag inside a pint glass for easy filling and then line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Pipe 6 individual meringue nests on each tray and a few mini meringues and place in the oven.
- Bake for 90 minutes without opening the oven door. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues to cool in there (door still shut).
You can keep the meringues in an airtight container or freeze them.
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As my lovely friend Vicki has been busy filming with Jamie Oliver (!!!), I am hosting #TastyTuesdays for her this week. Feel free to link up your recipes and restaurant reviews and share the linky love!
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