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Presenting, the vegan meringue

Mumbai bakers replace the egg white with bean brine. And, the fluff, they say, is just as good

Dressed in a black chef suit and baseball cap that reads the first letter of his name, Chef Ambar Samtani is busy whisking egg whites at his two-month-old bakery, Serendipity on Dr Ambedkar Road, Bandra, “I am making macaroons, meringue, and coffee-based dessert affogato — all vegan,” he grins.

Ambar Samtani blow-torches a meringue at Serendipty
Ambar Samtani blow-torches a meringue at Serendipty

Wait, but didn’t we just see him whisk an egg in the hand blender? “That’s chickpea brine, not egg,” he explains, introducing us to the revolutionary liquid vegans all over the world are going gaga over. Chanced upon by French chef Joël Roessel in March this year, a vegan baker Goose Wohlt first tried a meringue and christened the bean brine aqua faba.

Since then, vegan bakers have been sharing the last laugh on social media — pictures of cakes, meringues, marshmallows, mousse, breads, mock sausages and crusty pies are proof this liquid can be used as an emulsifier, leavening agent, and even foaming agent. In short, a replacement for the egg white.

He even makes macaroons and affagato using chickpea brine. pics/sameer markande
He even makes macaroons and affagato using chickpea brine. Pics/Sameer Markande

Aqua faba — stock water created when cooking beans — is an ingredient that was lying low in almost every kitchen. Once it was discarded after draining the beans, but no more.

“I have been using it as an oil replacement due to its sticky texture for years. You can even freeze it in ice cube trays to use later,” says Pune-based Megan McCrindle, an American national and literacy consultant. She adds, “For baking, it works well as egg replacement in cakes, muffins, and quick breads (blueberry or banana).” Don’t use them for cookies, however, she warns. “It makes them too fluffy”. The best part, she adds, is that it doesn’t alter the flavour.

Ritika Ramesh, a 31-year-old who runs The Green Stove vegan bakery at Ghatkopar, admits that using it needs a bit of trial and error. She even ended up spoiling her oven after more fiascos. “Initially, my meringue was a flop and it tasted only of sugar. After reading up on aqua faba, I followed the tips of using a metal bowl and storing the aqua faba in the fridge,” says Ramesh, who gave it one more try last month. “It worked. Most people use chick pea brine, but it works with beans including fava and kidney beans. It is a replacement for egg white, not eggs. I use it to give a foamy texture to lemon tarts. I’ve even tried the peppermint meringue. The trick is to put it in the oven on low temperature (100ºC) for three to four hours, just like an egg-white meringue.”

A Facebook group — Vegan Meringue-Hits and Misses — is the go-to place for cooks who want to show off their kitchen triumphs. Anuradha Sawhney, who runs a vegan bakery in Pune, is hooked. “I have made an orange cake, vegan omelet (she adds it in besan chila), and anything that needs fluff,” she smirks.

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