I hoard egg whites. It’s almost a sickness. I am physically incapable of throwing them away. It’s part of my general ‘physically incapable of throwing any form of food away’ neurosis. Sometimes, when there are leftovers after a meal, but an annoying amount that I either won’t eat or won’t turn into another meal, I have to enlist one of my dinner guests to tip them into the bin, such is my incapability of transferring food from plate to rubbish.
I think it’s Nigella who writes in one of her books that she now breaks eggs directly into the sink when she just needs the yolks. Sort of the egg-separating equivalent of ripping off a plaster really quickly – there’s a momentary pang as you watch the yellow, viscous substance slide quiveringly down the plughole, but there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. It’s a question of active agency, I think: somehow doing it that way seems like an accident, not your fault – as opposed to the reckless, pre-meditated crime of physically tipping a bowl of egg whites into the bin or sink.
I can’t even manage this, though. It’s ludicrous, I realise, since eggs cost all of about 30p each and are in plentiful supply. A few lost whites do not constitute a major crime against food conservation. I should probably see some kind of specialist about this - often inhibiting - reluctance to discard anything remotely edible.
Nothing sends me into more of a panic than a recipe that calls for egg yolks. Just the yolks. Those brilliant glossy globules of marigold goo, resplendently isolated from the slightly creepy alien-esque ephemera that suspends them delicately inside their protective shell. Curds, pastry, ice cream, pasta: you are not my friends. Much as I love your delicious end results, you are responsible for a sizeable chunk of unavailable freezer space.
Egg whites freeze well, you see. This is either a blessing or a curse. The former because it means you don’t end up wasting those whites if you don’t have an immediate use for them. The latter because they sit in the freezer, nagging you to use them, taking up space that could be occupied by more immediately useful items.
When you have four sets of four egg whites in your freezer (just put them in plastic bags, labelled with the number of whites, and freeze…not that I’m encouraging this practice…), you realise it is time to act. Or at least, I did. It may be OK if egg whites are the only thing hogging your freezer space, but I also have an unfortunate habit of hoarding most fruits known to man, and also, currently, rather a large quantity of meat.
The last time I made macaroons was also out of a desire to put egg whites to good use. Unfortunately, this time there were thirty of them. I am not even joking. This was when I worked in a restaurant as a waitress, and the chef had made a large quantity of pasta for lunch service. By ‘large’, I mean he used thirty egg yolks. Apparently also unable to crack them into the sink, he had put the whites into a large kilner jar, which I insisted on taking home to ‘put to good use’.
I will say it now: there is no ‘good use’ for thirty egg whites. Three, maybe. Even thirteen, perhaps – three pavlovas and you’re done. But thirty? Good luck with that. I think I had to get my mum to throw the rest away, after I’d made about a hundred macaroons. Most recipes, you see, don’t use just egg whites. Mousse, for example, usually puts some yolks in there too for richness. Meringue pie has yolks in the fruit filling. Many cakes lightened with egg whites also incorporate the yolks along with the sugar. Pretty much the only options available to you are macaroons and meringues.
Also, incidentally: thirty egg whites in a kilner jar are not a pretty sight. It looks like something a mad scientist might have on a shelf in his eerie laboratory, or an artificial womb used to birth an alien life form. There are viscous strands of jellyfish-like white tentacles suspended within the yellowish mass, and the whole thing moves with an unpleasant quivering wobble that reminds me of the by-products of liposuction.
Macaroons are not to be confused with macarons, those overly fancy French creations that send baking bloggers into a total frenzy of violent perfectionism over ‘feet’ and ‘shells’ and the like. Macaroons are probably the easiest baked goods you will ever make. You whisk some egg whites (but not even in an energetic way – just lightly with a hand whisk until they’re a bit frothy), add some sugar and ground almonds (or desiccated coconut), shape into balls and bake. From start to finish, about 15 minutes.
Here, I have put a Middle Eastern twist on traditional macaroons by adding cardamom. Combined with the ground almonds, you end up with a macaroon that tastes like the filling of baklava. Add a crunchy, toasty pistachio nut on top, and the overall effect is deliciously and seductively reminiscent of those wonderful cardamom-scented, nut-rich Middle Eastern pastries that I love so much. I think finely chopping the pistachios and rolling the macaroons in them before baking would also be an excellent idea, but this keeps it super-simple.
For such a simple recipe, these really pack a punch in terms of flavour and texture. They have the most wonderful gooey centres, with a nice gentle crunch on the outside, and fill your tastebuds with sweet, fragrant cardamom and almond. They’re perfect with an afternoon cup of tea, or served alongside desserts like mousse or ice cream, and look a lot more complicated and impressive than they in fact are. The recipe is also easy to scale up, as you just mix everything in a bowl, so you can make a big batch and give them to grateful friends/neighbours/colleagues/family.
And, let’s not forget, they’re a great way to use up (some of) those egg whites that, if you’re anything like me, are haunting you and your freezer right now.
Pistachio and cardamom macaroons (makes about 30, so easily multiplied):
- 2 egg whites
- 230g ground almonds
- 140g caster sugar
- 10 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds ground to a powder
- Pistachio nuts, to decorate
- Icing sugar, to dust
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment or silicon.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg whites with a whisk until just starting to turn bubbly. Add the almonds, sugar and crushed cardamom, then mix together with a spoon until firm but sticky. Roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut, with your hands or using a teaspoon. Arrange, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet.
Using a fork, press down slightly on the top of each macaroon to flatten it. Press a pistachio nut into the centre of each. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown but still a little squidgy. Allow to cool before dusting with icing sugar.