[Photos by Alexandra DeFurio from Meringue published by Gibbs Smith, 2012. Images posted here courtesy the publisher.]
Regardless of their posh roots and ethereal looks, though, meringues are just as at home served in a rustic wooden bowl as on a three-tiered silver stand. I think I probably first encountered them on a humble wire baking rack: my grandmother and mother made classic meringue cookies the really simple, old school way with a spoon rather than a pastry bag.
So, I love the authors' down-to-earth approach. When I asked Jackson about it, she replied:
"One of the things we wanted to accomplish with Meringue was to demystify this most heavenly of desserts. Too many people -- even experienced home bakers -- are intimidated by them. "
And demystify they do, even explaining how to crack an egg. They truly get down to basics, using clear (yet still entertaining) prose to guide readers step-by-step. Personally, I appreciate how the authors acknowledge that copper bowls, stand mixers and pastry tips aren't absolute necessities for making meringue (although if you have a stand mixer, it will make the process easier). Imperfection is allowed because whether pristine or cracked and crumbly, meringue is delicious. In fact, anticipating a few initial "mess ups," Jackson and Gardner include recipes for divinely messy desserts. No need for your efforts in the kitchen to go to waste.
The idea is to become comfortable with the most fundamental meringue cookie then, if desired, move on to French macarons, tarts, marjolaines, pavlovas and dacquoises. Basic meringues require few ingredients and happen to be high in protein, very low in fat, gluten-free and lactose-free. I'm partial to the small melt-in-your-mouth cookies because just one or two are great with an unsweetened espresso. (You can store meringues without toppings in an airtight container for roughly a week or keep them in the freezer for a month.)
The authors also suggest recipes for all sorts of celebrations: Valentine's, St. Patrick's Day, Passover, summer gatherings, weddings and so on.
The only negative, as the authors are to quick to point out, is that meringues are nearly impossible to make in humid conditions. If you live in a very humid climate like I do, make sure the air in the kitchen at least is cool and crisp.
Not into baking? I still recommend flipping through the book for the inspiring aesthetic alone. Responding to my question about the beautiful marriage of soft and rough elements, Jackson reiterated the main goal of the project:
"We wanted to show just how easy meringue desserts are to make, and the photos are a big part of that, which is why photographer Alexandra DeFurio was the perfect choice. She and stylist Anni Daulter shared our vision from the very beginning and did an incredible job. We love the juxtaposition of the delicate looking meringues with the rustic surfaces and vintage serving items. We didn't want anything to look too precious. It's hard to believe they accomplished what seemed impossible: shooting the entire book on Anni's farm -- over 75 photos -- in just one week. We are beyond thrilled with the results, and love hearing from people that Meringue is so beautiful, they think of it as a coffee table book."