I’m not sure what it is about meringue, but it has this sort of ethereal and angelic quality to it that makes it one of the most special treats you can make. It’s hard to imagine that a simple whipping of egg whites and sugar can yield something so versatile, so delightfully tasty and so lovely.
A quick few swirls from a pastry bag and you can have the sweetest little nests that, once baked, can be filled with anything from fruit and frosting to curds and creams. I also love that its snow-white “colour” is the perfect starting point for achieving any possible shade you wish (a frequent obstacle us cakers face when we want to colour buttercreams and the like ). As a lover of clean pastel shades, tinting meringue is a dream.
I tinted these with a drop of turquoise gel paste and piped them using a large swirl tip, Ateco #887, for a kind of oversized swirled nest effect. While they baked I created some fondant feathers using a silicone feather mold I bought awhile back at my local cake decorating supply shop — I’ve been dying to use this thing! I used the mold and then use a sharp paring knife to give the edges some small slices and imperfections (the key to creating something organic and realistic).
I filled the nests with a generous swirl of Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and then adorned them with a single fondant feather. You could also add in some fresh berries, or curd (one way to use up all of the leftover yolks!), or anything at all really. Either way, these are a truly sweet and special treat for little ones — my cakelets not only love when I make meringue (Reese loves it straight from the bowl soft and billowy, and Neve loves it anyway at all), but they were enchanted by the process of making both the feathers and nests.
The girls’ eyes lit up when they saw the finished treat all put together and ready for their tea party. Do you think they’ll still want me to bake them tea party treats when they’re grown and on their own? I hope so.
I wanted to the feathers to be thin and delicate, yet I also wanted them to taste good, so rather than using gumpaste, which we’d typically use for something so thin, I just added some Tylose powder to my fondant before rolling out. I do this often when I want to strengthen my fondant for decorations, but don’t want to use gumpaste. (As you’ve likely discovered, gumpaste may be super strong and dry like pure porcelain, but it doesn’t taste yummy. At all.) Once dry, I gave the feathers a little paint with bright white soft gel colour.
Fairy-princess approved. ♥
Sweet, glossy and crisp nests of meringue ready for filling with your favourite buttercream, curd, fruit and more.
- 5 egg whites, at room temperature
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- 1-1/4 cup (250 g) superfine (caster) sugar
- Drop of food gel colour of choice
- 2 baking sheets
- parchment paper
- 1 large (18-inch) pastry bag
- 1 large pastry tip of your choice
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to lowest temperature (for my oven this is 175°F).
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer and the whisk attachment with a lemon-juice-dampened paper towel to remove all traces of grease. Separate your eggs (best done when cold) and add the 5 egg whites into the bowl. If you get any yolk into the mixing bowl, remove all contents and begin again. Leave bowl on counter until they come to room temperature, or place bowl in sink filled with enough warm water to surround the egg whites for at least 15 minutes.
- Once egg whites are room temperature (warm is best), place bowl back on mixer and fit with whisk attachment. Mix on low speed until egg whites become frothy, about 1 minute, and add cream of tartar.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Gradually add all of the sugar and beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. You should be able to hold the bowl upside down over your head with no meringue falling out. Add gel colour and beat until combined.
- Fit the pastry bag with the large tip (I used Ateco #887) and pipe 3-inch (apprx.) circle, working from the middle outwards, followed by three full rings atop one another around the perimeter of the nest. Pipe 7 nests per baking sheet, placing a few inches apart.
- Bake both trays in oven until completely dry and crisp, but not browned, about 90 minutes (this can take much longer, depending on your environment). Nests should lift from parchment with ease. Turn off oven and leave nests inside until oven has cooled, then remove nests from oven.
A decadent, rich and not-so-sweet buttercream perfect for frosting and filling cakes, cupcakes and baked meringues.
- 5 large fresh egg whites
- 1-1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 cups (340 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoons (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
- Pinch of salt
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
- Place bowl back on mixer and fit with whisk attachment. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 mins, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).
- Add vanilla, vanilla bean seeds and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
- Serve at room temperature.
Keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 7 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature. To get buttercream back to its satiny state after chilling, microwave about 1/3 of it in a microwave-safe bowl for about 10 seconds (until very soft) and then add back to remaining buttercream and beat for a few minutes until fluffy and soft.
- 1 batch Pastel Meringue Nests
- 1 batch Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Vanilla Fondant (about size of tennis ball)
- Tylose powder
- Confectioners' sugar or cornstarch for rolling fondant
- Bright White soft gel paste, optional
- A small rolling pin
- small sharp knife
- silicon feather mold, small
- Press fondant until flattened and sprinkle with tylose powder, kneading in to incorporate.
- Roll small piece of fondant (placing extra fondant in small sealed bag) on a confectioners'-sugar-dusted surface until about 1/16 (I use the pink guides on the small Wilton rolling pin). Place one half of the feather mold onto the fondant and cut around the outline of the mold, about 1/2" bigger than the mold. Line up the other half of the mold, sandwiching the fondant in between by gently pressing straight down. Remove the top mold, and carefully remove the fondant feather, placing back on dusted surface. Use sharp paring knife or craft blade to trim excess fondant and to create some tiny slices along the edges for a realistic look. Let dry on crumpled paper towel, shaping them slightly to dry the way you want them (slightly curved, etc).
- Once dry, you can carefully paint them with a small paint brush and bright white gel color paste, if desired. Let dry completely. Dried feathers are fragile, so treat with care.
- Fit a pastry bag with a large plain round tip and fill bag 2/3 full with buttercream. Fill each meringue nest until buttercream comes just above top of nest and top with fondant feather.
- The “superfine” sugar I listed is also known as caster/castor sugar. It’s simply granulated sugar that is more fine and dissolves nicely into the meringue. I use regular sugar (vanilla sugar that I keep in the canister) and pulse it through the food processor a few times. Voila!
- For the nests in the photos I used Americolor Turquoise soft gel paste and piped them with the Ateco #887 pastry tip.
- I bought my feather molds here – it comes with two sizes included and you can order it online.
- You can add Tylose Powder to fondant to make it stronger for delicate decorations. (This will also result in a quicker drying decoration). Simply sprinkle a thin layer over your rolled piece of fondant, then knead in until blended. I use Satin Ice Fondant.
- I use the Wilton Fondant 9 Inch Rolling Pin with the pink guides to roll even and thin rounds of fondant to use with the feather mold.
- You can keep unfilled nests in an airtight container for about a week, and filled nests can stay at room temperature for about 1 day. Always serve Swiss Meringue Buttercream at room temperature (or it will feel and taste as though you’re eating cold butter–eew!).
Good luck & enjoy!