I've always thought that vegan chefs are kind of wizard-like. I mean, they can make virtually anything out of, well, anything!
In the last few years especially, we've seen several culinary "breakthroughs" which really changed things up for vegans. Remember jackfruit meat? Coconut bacon? Cashew cheese?
Well now there's a new miracle in town, and it goes by the name of aquafaba, AKA bean water, that is, the water you've been chucking down the sink every time you drain a can of chickpeas or butter beans. Turns out that the high protein content of aquafaba makes it whippable just like egg white, which means vegans can FINALLY make all the things which traditionally depend on whisked-up whites: meringues, macarons, mousses and all. Who'd have thought it??
I really think this is the single best vegan food innovation I've ever seen - not just because it fills such a massive gap, but because the resulting product is so good, and so similar to the original. I mean, I love jackfruit meat and coconut bacon, but they're not the exact same. Not that being different is bad; I don't feel either a desire or need to replicate animal foods, and actually get a bit weirded out by hyperreal vegan "substitutes". Just, dang, aquafaba meringues are the. exact. same. as. egg. meringues! They're feather-light, chewy AND crispy/crunchy. And, it goes without saying: they don't smell or taste like beans, not one bit. You wouldn't know a bean was even in the same kitchen as these meringues from the way they eat.
So we owe a HUGE thanks to the folks who discovered aquafaba: a resourceful Facebook group called Vegan Meringue Hits and Misses. Their dedication to egg-free desserts truly knows no bounds and I'm completely in awe of their creativity and enthusiasm. The following recipe is my adaptation of K. O. Rasoi's, originally developed and posted in this group. I added a simple lemon curd filling along with whipped coconut cream, which worked together perfectly with the meringue.
Without further ado, here are the recipes. Please let me know if you try them out! What are your thoughts on aquafaba?
Lemon Meringue Nests with Whipped Coconut Cream and Lemon Curd Filling
Makes: 18 meringue nests
Preparation time: 4 hours 30 minutes (including baking time)
For the meringues...
The water out of one 400g can of chickpeas, drained and strained (apparently the water from other beans works too!)
140g icing sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon lemon extract
For the lemon curd filling...
225g caster sugar
65g cornflour (AKA corn starch)
250ml non-dairy milk
Zest of 4 lemons
Juice of 4 lemons
For the whipped coconut cream...
250ml coconut cream, refrigerated
2 tablespoons icing sugar
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large bowl (This must be very clean - any residue or oil could cause your meringues to deflate!)
1 medium or large bowl
Electric hand whisk or stand mixer
Piping bag with large nozzle of your choosing (mine was a star nozzle)
3 large baking trays
For the meringues...
1./ First, preheat your oven to 100 degrees Celsius, and line your baking trays with greaseproof paper.
2./ Add the chickpea water to a large, clean bowl and beat on high speed with either an electric whisk or stand whisk. Do this for about 5 minutes.
3./ After 5 minutes, while continuing to beat, gradually add in the icing sugar, a bit at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, sprinkle in the cream of tartar and the lemon extract.
4./ Keep beating until the meringue is glossy, with very stiff peaks.
5./ Scoop the meringue into your piping bag, pushing it down gently with a spoon or spatula. If the mixture doesn't all fit in one go, you can do the piping in batches.
6./ Pipe nests of meringue onto your lined baking sheets. To do this you basically want to first make a small circle (about 3 inches across), then add a two or three spirals on top, around the outer edge.
7./ Bake in your preheated oven for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Then, switch off the oven and leave the meringues in there for an extra hour or two. They should be completely dry when you remove them.
For the lemon curd...
8./ You can make the curd while the meringues are baking. For this, simply add all the ingredients to your saucepan. Place the mixture over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil, whisking by hand as it does. Turn the heat down slightly and continue whisking for 4-5 minutes, or until thickened and smooth. Leave to cool before use.
For the whipped cream...
9./ Make the whipped cream just before assembling your meringues. Add the coconut cream to a bowl and whisk on high speed until thickened, sprinkling in the vanilla and icing sugar halfway through.
10./ Serve your meringues fresh, topped generously with lemon curd and whipped cream. If you aren't eating them immediately, put them straight into an airtight container and refrigerate.