I was fifteen when I organized my first International Day feast.
I went to a boarding school in New England with a thousand other students. Boarding schools have come a long way since the all-white male student body days of George W. Bush. Our classes were made up of students from around the world. I shared a house with two girls from China and hung around with kids from Brazil, France, Venezuela, and Colombia, but we didn’t keep to ourselves. I had many American friends, and every Monday night had dinner speaking only French with a large crowd of students. We took advantage of the diversity around us, but also took it front granted, assuming that we would always be living in a rainbow of accents and viewpoints.
One sunny Sunday afternoon in spring, International students gathered on the front lawn to share their heritage with the rest of the student body. The air was filled with the smells of Samosas, black beans and rice, and dixie cups of gazpacho. We stood ready to serve at a long line of tables laden with food laboriously prepared in tiny dorm kitchenettes or generous teacher kitchens. That afternoon I stood sweating in the sun, flipping crepe after crepe after crepe for my American friends. They couldn’t get enough of that perfect mix of salted butter and sugar.
I’ve participated in quite a few International days since that Sunday afternoon as a teen, and have rarely changed my menu. Sugar crepes are what my kids want on Sunday mornings, and they’re what I serve to tease people with a taste of France.
But last week, when it came time to prepare something for my daughter’s first International Day in Ohio, I decided to change things up. Instead of the time intensive sugar crepes, I opted for bite-sized meringues instead. I made five trays of little meringues, five trays of little puffs of sugar and egg whites. They melted on Bella’s friends’ tongues, leaving them wanting more and craving France. They’re the next thing she wants to learn how to cook.
French Meringue Bites (adapted from Faites Votre Patisserie by Lenotre)
5 egg whites
4 teaspoons of granulated sugar (20 grams)
1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar (125 grams)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar (125 grams)
optional: 1/2 cup of powdered cocoa (100 grams)
- Combine your sugars, setting aside 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Having both types of sugar is what will give these meringues their particular consistency.
- Separate the eggs. Save your egg yolks to enrich sauces or just discard them. Beat the egg whites until they form very soft peaks. If you get any yolk in your whites, start over as this will keep your eggs from whipping stiffly enough.
- Pour in four teaspoons of granulated sugar to give your egg whites a boost as they continue beating. Stop beating the whites once they form stiff peaks. Keep testing by stopping the beaters and seeing whether the whites keep their shape when you pull the beaters out. They should hold their shape as you wished you bangs held in the 80s. Don’t overbeat though, or your eggs will become clumpy.
- Once your egg whites are stiff, fold in the sugar mixture with a rubber spatula, turning the bowl a quarter turn after every fold. Be very gentle to keep the maximum of air in the egg whites, but do make sure you’ve folded in all the sugar. (If you’d like to make these into chocolate meringues, fold in the cocoa now).
- Pour your mixture either in a pastry bag or a gallon ziplock bag. If you’re using the equally effective but less fancy ziplock bag, cut a small corner off. Pipe little mounds of mixture onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper or silpat. I really like these to be bite size, so I try to keep my mounds to the width of a silver dollar, not that I’ve seen one of those in a while.
- Cook in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. This is not a typo. Meringues are more dried than baked. At the 45 minute mark, begin checking your meringues to make sure they are not browning.