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20 mins

Instant 'meringues' made from a paste of egg white and icing sugar.
This idea intrigued me, because it's quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. How could a stiff paste of unbeaten egg white and three cups of icing sugar make anything meringue-like? I had my doubts, but was interested enough to hotfoot it to the supermarket to buy several bottles of eye-poppingly bright food colouring.

After much experimentation and tinkering, I figured out how to get them just right.

Six important points about this recipe. First, the drawbacks:

-These are not true meringues: their texture is too dusty, they are overly sweet, and they have none of the delicate, billowing loveliness of a proper oven-dried meringue.

-You will need to experiment with the cooking times. Every microwave oven is different, and it may take a few tries before you figure out the optimum number of seconds - and yes, seconds count here - it takes to cook the meringues to a perfect crispiness. For this reason, I recommend that you make a double batch of the paste (cover whatever you're not using with clingfilm) to allow for mistakes.

Now the reasons I like this recipe:

- These are a perfect, last-minute sweetie-treat for birthday parties and cake sales. They are quick to make, and look very pretty, especially when sprinkled, just before cooking, with edible cake glitter.

- This is a wonderful recipe to make with kids: there is something magical about the way the meringues puff up, quadrupling in size, as they cook.

- These are a great standbye if you're making Eton Mess, or any recipe that calls for crumbled meringues (but do omit the food colouring).

- They remain super-crispy for at least 12 hours, and get crispier the longer they stand.

Makes about 40 'meringues'

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  • Step 1

    Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl. Put the egg whites and vanilla into a separate, small bowl, and whisk very lightly for 30 seconds, or until the mixture is lightly frothed and smooth, with no gloopy bits. Make a well in the centre of the icing sugar, and add a tablespoon of the egg white/vanilla mix.

  • Step 2

    Using a spoon, or your fingers, mix well, adding a little more egg white as you go - less than a teaspoon at a time - so that you end up with a rather stiff, but pliable, paste. If you add too much egg white, and the mixture seems too runny, sift some more icing sugar into the bowl.

  • Step 3

    Tip the paste onto a board covered with a sheet of baking paper and knead lightly with your fingertips for a minute. Poke two holes, using a fingertip, into the paste. Add a few drops of different food colouring to each hole. Lightly knead the paste again, twisting and turning as you go, to achieve a marbled effect. If you don't want to stain your fingers, wrap the paste in a big piece of clingfilm or put it in a polythene bag.

  • Step 4

    Make the meringues six at a time. Pinch off pieces of the paste (the size of a large marble) and place each one in a paper case. Sprinkle with a little edible cake glitter, if you have it. Cover the remaining paste to prevent if from drying out. Arrange the six paper cases in a circle on the turntable of your microwave oven.

  • Step 5

    Set the timer for two minutes, on high, and press the start button. Watch the meringues closely as they cook: after 45 seconds or so, depending on the power of your microwave, they will billow upwards with great flamboyance. Once they've stopped billowing, cook them for another 30-40 seconds (again, you will need to experiment here). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

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