Recently, I have been spending my life in the kitchen. There has been lemon meringue pie, cheesecake, blackberry jam, peach galette, and these, the best of the bunch by far: cinnamon walnut meringues, with a hint of molasses. I generally think of meringues as sophisticated, highbrow food. Absurd yet adorable meringue mushrooms on Yule log cakes or dainty piped florettes in pastel colors. But these, these are homey in a deep way. The warmth of cinnamon and molasses, the earthiness of walnuts…yes. I think there’s something deeply nostalgic about molasses and cinnamon for Americans. I sink into wordless bliss when I bite into one of these.
To me, that’s the best thing about food. That it can nourish our hearts, as well as our bodies, that it can tie us together and bring us back to ourselves when we wander astray. I put a basket of these guys in the community room and when I came back later, there was a note, rhapsodizing the joy this little meringue brought to some one’s afternoon, at just the moment when she really needed the culinary equivalent of a hug.
This is why I bake. This is why I cook. This is why I spend hours of my life reading and plotting and experimenting around food.
But it’s not the only reason. I wish it were the only reason.
The other reason is because often I can’t not. Because thinking about food is so natural and so much simpler than so many other things in life that it’s actually a problem sometimes. Let me explain.
It goes like this: Important project in the back of my mind that should probably be accomplished sooner rather than later? But there’s blackberries that need to be harvested and turned into jam or they’ll go to waste! Painting stuck in a tough spot waiting to be resolved? Those egg whites have been sitting in the fridge for more than a week–it’s now or never. Anything at all remotely distressing or uncertain? Time to bake a cake, feel productive, be commended by lots of happy people eating that cake, and leave any worries for another day.
This is the worst thing about food. That I use it as a distraction from addressing uncertainties, when I actually feel better if I just face up to them. And often, in the stress that goes along with ignoring important business, I wind up consuming a lot more of all such baked goods than I would if I were willing to listen and pay attention to my own needs and questions. You can’t blot out the natural changes of life or the inquietude that goes with those, even the good changes, but you can give yourself an awful stomach ache trying. Take my word for it.
A fortunate fact about meringues is that they’re mostly air, so even if you panic eat six or seven, you mostly end up with a sugar head ache and a renewed conviction to approach both the baking cupboard and your worries more mindfully.
Cinnamon Walnut Meringues
Makes about a dozen-and-a-half
5 egg whites (about 150 grams)
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) molasses
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (50 grams) chopped raw walnuts
Preheat the oven to 225˚ F (110˚ C).
In a large metal bowl, briefly whisk together the egg whites, sugar, molasses, and salt. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat, all the while stirring, until the mixture reaches 140˚ F (60˚ C) and the sugar is dissolved. If you don’t have an instant thermometer, heat until the mixture feels smooth between your fingers, which means that sugar is fully dissolved.
When the mixture is heated, move the bowl from the stove to the counter or a stand mixer. Whip on high for ten minutes, or until it holds stiff peaks. Add cinnamon and beat until combined.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use two spoons to make mounds of meringue about two-and-a-half inches wide. Sprinkle each mound with walnuts. Bake for 90 minutes to two hours, depending on whether you like chewy insides or crisp-all-the-way-through. Regale your tastebuds and your friends!