Suspiros For Purim
Growing up in Brazil, I was destined to get hooked on Portuguese sweets. Ever since I can remember, I have loved the blissfully rich taste of all egg-based desserts that are found in Brazilian cuisine.
The history of Portuguese sweets takes us back to the convents of the 18th century.
Until the 15thcentury sugar was used as medicine and sold in streets markets. The Arabs living in Portugal slowly introduced a whole new way of using sugar in food, creating what we call desserts. In Portugal, it all started with syrups, which is the base for sweets to this day.
Egg whites were used to iron clothes and clarify wine. What to do with the yolks, then? Sweets, sweets, and more sweets! Take yolks in one direction, mix it with syrup and vanilla extract, and you achieve the likes of custards, puddings, and candies. Take it in another, and you get tarts and sponge cakes.
I have worked in many restaurant kitchens, and I can attest that today, the opposite is true. We use so much of the yolk (for sauces, ice creams, emulsifiers) that it’s the egg whites that get the shaft.
In my own kitchen, as I often prepare many Portuguese sweets, buckets of egg whites are free for use, so I freeze them in small plastic bags. Whenever I decide to make French macaroons, the airy almond meringue cookie pressed around a creamy filling, I know I don’t need to break new eggs. Indeed, French macaroons have attained a huge, universal status, but when it comes to baking, they make no pretense of ease.
As much as I love the sophistication of French macaroons, I must confess a bias toward suspiros, or meringue cookies. Also based on egg whites, they are big, cloudy, crumbly and actually easier and faster to make than macaroons.
It’s a treat that takes me back to my childhood. When I was a young girl in Brazil, my family would gather every Sunday night to visit Vovó Estrella, my Jewish-Morrocan grandmother. She used to make suspiros. They’re almost weightless.
In recent years, I have seen meringues of all flavors, but the plain white one, with just a dash of lemon zest and vanilla extract, as my grandmother used to make, still has a place in the sun.
Meringues are very easy to make, as they don’t require a lot of attention and have a wide margin of error. Place the beaten egg whites inside a pastry with a start tip and you’re in the game. Or, you can always use round pastry tips to make a more modern version.