Anise is one of those flavours that divides people, like Marmite, peanut butter, liquorice, and gin. As Niki Segnit says of anise in her excellent and fascinating book The Flavour Thesaurus, "It's a very combinable flavour, equally successful in sweet or savoury dishes, and gets on famously with seafood and sharp fruit".

While planning a quick and easy pudding for supper on Saturday night (all of which had to be prepared in advance because I was playing in a piano salon at London's Steinway Hall on Saturday afternoon), I recalled a recipe for aniseed meringues. I've always liked the flavour of anise (less so liquorice, though Laduree's liquorice macaroons are divine), and I had a feeling it would go well with the sweet crunch of meringues and the sharpness of fresh strawberries.

 Meringues are stupidly easy to make, yet they are veiled in mystique for many cooks. You need only two ingredients - sugar and egg whites - which you are likely to have in your larder and fridge most of the time, and a whisk, preferably a good electric one (I use my Kitchenaid). Other ingredients and flavourings can be added, such as chocolate or fresh raspberries (which, when cooked, peep from the meringues like jewels). And meringues go so well with fruit and whipped cream: look no further than the eponymous Pavlova.

Some people like their meringues very crunchy, others prefer a marshmallowy centre (I do). My mother adds a teaspoonful of vinegar to the whisked egg whites to achieve this, and it's particularly good in a Pavlova, to slice through a layer of fruit and cream, and the crust of the meringue and find a soft centre.

This is based on Delia Smith's foolproof meringue mixture. Basically, it's 50g (2oz) of sugar per egg white. Make sure the eggs are very fresh for best results.

Heat the oven to 150°C and prepare a baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment

2 egg whites
100g sugar
½ g ground aniseed
A dash of vanilla extract

Start whisking the egg whites on a slow speed to start with until they get nice and bubbly. Then switch to a medium speed for about a minute, and finally up to full speed until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, about a tablespoonful at a time, keeping the whisk on a high speed.

Add the ground aniseed and the vanilla extract.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking sheet. This quantity will yield about 30 meringues. Put in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140°C until the meringues are baked. Then turn the oven off and leave them to dry out.

I served the meringues with sliced strawberries steeped in icing sugar and rosewater, and whipped cream. My dinner guests deemed them delicious!

The Flavour Thesaurus website


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