Aquafaba-ulous: Vegan Meringue

Generally okay. Probably will be quite nice crumbled up into yoghurt.
Generally okay. Probably will be quite nice crumbled up into yoghurt.

While I was on hols, Flatmate and I were both very taken with this recent article in the Guardian, on the near-miraculous properties of “Aquafaba“. “What is this mystery ingredient, Lewishambles?“, I hear you cry. “Is it mere nutritional woo woo like baobab powder and birch water?

The answer, dear reader, is: possibly. For Aquafaba is simply that gross goo you get in cans of chickpeas or beans. You know, the stuff which smells like farts which you usually cram down the plughole ASA-fucking-P, right?

I’m not sure quite what possessed the discoverer to try and eat this shit, but fair play to the man, he appears to have stumbled upon the vegan philosopher’s stone – a cheap, reliable and non-chemical alternative to egg white which – GASP – actually makes aerated desserts a possibility.

The Aquafaba (literally “bean-water”) “movement” appears to be mainly focussed around a group on Facebook, which has made some admittedly excellent-looking food which wasn’t previously open to vegans, like meringue, macarons, icings and light-as-air mousse cakes. I’m stoked for my veganista buds, because your diets are pretty tough to maintain in today’s society and the opening up of the world of meringue is BIG NEWS.

That said, I’m not sure I buy this whole “NO LIVING HUMAN CAN EXPLAIN WHY THIS WORKS” claim when I’m sure it’s something to do with the way that most processed beans are canned, which involves canning the beans and then heating them while sealed to enormous temperatures to sterilise and preserve. It’s probably something that a competent scientist can figure out because of reasons I’m not clever enough to understand. Most cooking is essentially chemistry in any event, so deciding that coming up with a silly name makes you the owner of a MYSTERIOUS THING is probably a bit much, but then look at SPAM, eh? (I’m almost certain that most vegans are not going to thank me for that particular comparison).

Now, I’m currently experimenting with vegetarianism for a month (see my reasons for this HERE) and this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Armed with basic advice from the Aquafaba.com website, a couple of youtube videos (try this one, which is mercifully simple and the least annoying of those I found)  and Flatmate keenly assisting, we set forth on the Great Experiment.

You will need: bean juice, icing sugar, vanilla essence, and a motor whisk. DO NOT ATTEMPT with a hand whisk unless you are some sort of idiot.
You will need: bean juice, icing sugar, vanilla essence, and a motor whisk. DO NOT ATTEMPT with a hand whisk unless you are some sort of idiot.

First impressions: 

Oh god, it smells really bad. Like farts. Like someone decided that farts was a totally legit flavour for gooey water. We’ve picked a recipe which calls for 1/2 cup of aquafaba to 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, which is a really high sugar-to-water ratio, but seems to have its fans.

T minus one minute whisking: 

And it begins. Ugh.
And it begins. Ugh.

This is going to take a while.

T minus 4 minutes whisking: 

It's starting to look... well, it's happening. But slooooowly.
It’s starting to look… well, it’s happening. But slooooowly.

To be fair, this is starting to come together, but it is taking a while. The recipes I’ve seen tend to be pretty much in agreement that a decent meringue substitute is going to take about 20 minutes. The smell is still pretty indescribable.

T minus 6 minutes: 

We start to see glimmers of hope.
We start to see glimmers of hope.

We’re approaching soft peak stage but it’s fairly touch and go. This stuff is definitely a lot slacker than egg white and doesn’t seem to hold naturally at stiff peaks. Flatmate is of the view that a stabilising agent would be the best way forwards but we can’t think of what that might be. Xanthin gum? It doesn’t matter as we don’t have any to hand.

T minus 10 minutes: 

After obtaining recognisable peaks, we start adding the sugar.
After obtaining recognisable peaks, we start adding the sugar.

We decide it’s sugar time, based on nothing more than our sense that this might make things happen. This is a hell of a lot of sugar. On the upside, unlike normal meringue you could happily scoff the lot of this if you were cool with fart smell.

T minus 15 minutes: 

WE HAVE MERINGUE
WE HAVE MERINGUE

We have a definitely recognisable meringue but it’s awfully loose. This stuff could definitely not be piped. The vanilla and sugar are all in by now, and the texture is best described as sabayon or ribbon-stage egg-and-sugar, but holding a bit more. We decide to whisk further and see what happens.

T minus 20 mins: 

Mmm, viscous
Mmm, viscous

What happened? Not much. It got a bit thicker but essentially seems to reach a level where it stays as it is. On the upside, having kept some of this mix out on the side for 30 min, I’m happy to report it pretty much stays stable at this point. Many commentators will use this mixture as a vegan cream topping substitute and given that you could happily eat this mixture as is, this wouldn’t be a terrible idea. But the knowledge that there’s a HECK OF A LOT OF SUGAR in there is giving me pause.

COOKING:

Looking... interesting. Definite puffing.
Looking… interesting. Definite puffing.

We decided to pop these bad boys in at 180c and wait for them to go hard. We peeked a few times and… they totally didn’t, not even after 30 minutes. They kept really soft and at the point at which Flatmate took them out, they weren’t as successful as they might be:

OH GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!
OH GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!

Oops.

BUT we then realized what we were actually dealing with. The soft pillows actually firmed up in the cool air, once out of the oven! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT WHAT WE EXPECTED.

Actually looking quite elegant once dried.
Actually looking quite elegant once dried.

This shit is AERATED CARAMEL. That’s it! The bean juice gives the sugar  a vehicle to stay suspended and cook into a really super-light melted sugar structure. Unlike classic meringue, which has a pillowy centre of its own, this is more – well, sugary. There isn’t any body to speak of.

It’s a shadow of a meringue, and I hate to suggest this but i suspect that vegans who say it’s just like the real thing might just have forgotten what the real thing actually tastes like.

TASTE TEST: 

Flatmate – not worth the effort. If you want meringue, eat meringue. If you’re allergic to eggs,  then this will do but you can probably find better things to eat.

Lovely One – I’m concerned as to why Lewishambles reckons she knows what farts taste like. I am also concerned that I now know what they taste like. This is way too sweet. Dia-Veges beckons. [Flatmate would like to point out that this is the man with the sweetest tooth in the world.] Someone who thinks this is just like the real thing probably thinks that Dacia is the latest in automotive technology.

Lewishambles – I like caramel. I like meringue. This is a sort of unsatisfying half-way house between the two. And the general hum of beany-juice-fart-smell is hanging around these like a sad girl at a really fun party. I can’t see how this is an improvement on classic meringue, in the same way that Tofurkey is in no way an acceptable substitute for Turkey on Christmas day if you’re able to eat the real thing. That said, if you’re not able to have the real thing, it’s nice to pretend.

Final thoughts:

I tried another batch for just 15 minutes and they came out crunchy and quite meringue like to look at once they firmed up. But overall, this is one I’ll leave to the vegans to *ahem* enjoy.

Next week: We experiment with sausage water Daiquiris. Just kidding.

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