All Smoke, No Mirrors: Homemade Smog Meringues as Good as the Originals

25 November 2022 by Rebecca Brill in Food

If you’ve ever made custard, mayonnaise, pudding, hollandaise, or anything else that calls strictly for egg yolks, you know how it goes. As you wipe down (or in the case of pudding, lick clean) bowls, whisks, and spoons, the inevitable question arises: What to do with the leftover whites? The egg white omelette is an old albeit somewhat bland reliable, and I’m told that mixed with olive oil, whites make for a nourishing hair conditioner. But what if those whites could serve a higher purpose? Consider the sweet, crunchy, and downright political alternative to the egg white omelette: the smog meringue.

We all remember when smog meringues took New York City by pollutant-filled storm in the summer of 2019. Lines for the Aeroir bakery in SoHo spanned blocks, full of customers eager to taste flavors like 1920s Paris, 1880s Chicago, and 1750s Shanghai. Originally developed by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, CoClimate, and Edible Geography in 2015, the synthesized smog meringue quickly became the environmentally conscious set’s answer to the Cronut, popping up alongside other aeroir-based desserts in bakeries across the county. Many have since tried their hands at developing recipes for homemade smog meringues, but without Teflon Simulation Chambers, smog meringue copycats have failed to capture the sooty-yet-satisfying edge that made the originals a hit.

Until now, that is. Below is a recipe for smog meringues that you can make in the comfort of your own kitchen. I’ve included a few variations: 1950s Los Angeles, Present-Day Atlanta and Central Valley, and the 1872 London Peasouper. Once you get the hang of the recipe, which is definitely tricky, feel free to play around with the smog concentration until it’s to your liking. I, for one, am a sucker for the deep, smoky flavor of Hawaiian vog. This recipe is intended for advanced bakers. Making smog meringues is a delicate operation, more science than craft. The process is also time-consuming, but a little elbow grease and a few calculations sure beat the price of a Teflon.

Ingredients for meringue base:

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Smog flavors:*

For 1950s Los Angeles:

Hydrocarbons: a glass dish filled with gasoline

NOx (nitrogen oxides): a copper penny in nitric acid

For Present-Day Atlanta:

Hydrocarbons: a glass dish filled with gasoline

NOx (nitrogen oxides): a copper penny in nitric acid

Terpenes: pine needles and lemon peel, heated slightly

Sulfur: sulfuric acid

For Central Valley:

NOx (nitrogen oxides): a copper penny in nitric acid

Dust

Amines: a decaying fish

Ammonia: ammonia in a glass dish

For London Peasouper:

Hydrocarbons: a glass beaker filled with gasoline

NOx (nitrogen oxides): a copper penny in nitric acid

Soot: a burning candle

Dust: fly ash

Sulfur: struck matches

Additional tools:

Electric mixer with whisk attachments

Black light

Mixing bag (a transparent version of light-proof photographic film changing bags)

Directions:

  1. Separate eggs, letting the whites fall into a glass bowl and discarding the yolks..
  2. Place bowl and ingredient tools for your selected smog flavor inside mixing bag and seal. For London peasouper which requires both fire and gasoline, take particular care to keep candle and matches away from gasoline.
  3. Place under a blacklight to catalyze the reactions that turn the separate gases into smog.
  4. Add cream of tartar to the whites and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. While mixing, slowly add sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar has been added. Continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy. Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds more.
  5. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 200°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place a small amount of the meringue under each corner of the paper to secure it to the pan. Fill a 1-quart sealable plastic bag (or pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip) with the meringue. Seal the bag almost completely, leaving a small opening for air to escape from the top as you squeeze. Snip off one corner of the bag with scissors, making a 3/4-inch-wide opening. Fold the top of the bag over a few times, then gently push the meringue down to the snipped corner. Working with the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, pipe the meringue into 1 1/2-inch-diameter cookies, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart.
  6. Bake the cookies until dry and crisp throughout, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

*Modified from the original smog recipes developed by Edible Geography/Center for Genomic Gastronomy/CoClimate with the assistance of Professor David Cocker, UC Riverside.


REBECCA BRILL

Sirens contributor Rebecca Brill is a staff writer at The Hunch and the editor of Schmaltz, an anthology about Jewish women’s relationship to food. Her novel, Past Deadline, is forthcoming in 2023.

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