No, that's not whipped cream.
It's meringue. This morning I cracked open a dozen Locally Laid Egg Co. eggs, separated them and placed the whites in the bowl of my stand mixer.
Talk about peak performers. With the whisk attachment firmly secured, I cranked the engine to high speed and whipped the egg whites for 2 minutes, watching them quickly turn into foam and then rise out of the bottom of the bowl, increasing in volume and density as the seconds passed. At the 2-minute mark I started adding superfine sugar, taking about a minute to incorporate a cup into the whipped egg whites.
Making meringue is always one of nature's great culinary tricks -- an alchemy of air, motion and the chemical compounds locked within egg whites -- but this transformation was remarkable, an exercise in voluptuousness wrapped in a glossy sheen.
Just to be sure that this meringue magic wasn't a fluke, I repeated the same experiment, this time using a (styrofoam, ugh) carton of large eggs purchased at a major Twin Cities retailer.
They were less than half the price of the Locally Laid eggs, so I thought I was getting a bargain. However, the differences were immediately noticeable. Starting, superficially, with the shells: Locally Laid's carton sported a mood-enhancing variety of tans, browns, beiges and speckled variations of all three; the supermarket's eggs were a dull, uniform white.
Locally Laid's eggs size up to extra-large, and the supermarket's were large, which led to a discrepancy of about 2 tablespoons. To compensate, I added an additional supermarket egg white, giving both test cases an identical amount of egg white.
After whipping them for two minutes, the supermarket egg whites had achieved about half the volume of their Locally Laid counterparts, and were still well on the road towards soft-peak status. After whipping for an additional 2 minutes, the egg whites were approaching the same height as the Locally Laid egg whites, but the structure wasn't nearly as resilient (I'm fairly certain I would achieved more impressive results had I added a bit of cream of tartar, a reliable egg whites-boosting compound that Locally Laid eggs definitely don't need).
As for the meringue, it did the trick. But compared with the extraordinary Locally Laid meringue, it was the equivalent of hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony performed by a high school orchestra vs. the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Recognizable, certainly, but lacking nuance and polish. (By the way, the SPCO is playing that classic this weekend at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and Ted Mann Concert Hall).
For this baker, paying the extra money -- in this case, it was $1.89 vs. $4.49 -- for a dozen Locally Laid eggs is well worth the extra $2.60 investment. It's not every day that I bake a meringue-dependent angel food cake, so when I do, I want it to be the best it can be.
We published four egg recipes in Taste this morning -- I'm particularly fond of the herbed skilled souffle -- but one that didn't make the paper is a favorite of mine, an angel food cake formula from Ina Garten. It never fails to impress -- it's light (an ideal dessert for warm weather), and not overtly sweet (a trap in angel food cake world) and it's perfect with the late-summer blueberries that I spied last weekend at the farmers market.
This version (pictured, above) was prepared with Locally Laid egg whites (I skipped the cream of tartar, it wasn't necessary), and, if I do say so myself, wow. I've turned to this recipe so many times that I can pull it together from memory, and I have to say that I've never made a better one. Thanks, Locally Laid.
Meanwhile, what am I going to do with all of these (gorgeous) yolks? The possibilities are endless.
LEMON ANGEL FOOD CAKE
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: To make your own superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse. Adapted from “Barefoot Contessa Family Style” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $36)
2 c. superfine sugar, divided
1 1/3 c. cake flour
1 1/2 c. egg whites (about 10 to 12 eggs), at room temperature
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
Berries and freshly whipped cream for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and flour, sift four times and reserve. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, combine egg whites, salt and cream of tartar and whip on medium-high speed into soft peaks. Slowly add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and whisk until shiny and thick. Add vanilla extract and grated lemon and whisk 1 additional minute. Fold 1/4 of flour mixture into batter, and continue folding remaining fourths until fully incorporated. Transfer batter into a 10-inch angel food cake pan and smooth out top.
Bake until top is browned and cake springs bake when lightly touched, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer pan to a wire rack and cool 15 minutes. Use a sharp, thin knife to cut cake away from sides of pan. Invert pan over a serving plate and let cake fall out of pan. Carefully remove bottom, using a sharp, thin knife, if necessary. Cool completely and serve with berries and freshly whipped cream, if desired.
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