If you like to forage in the New Zealand bush you may be familiar with kawakawa, and know that it was used in traditional Māori medicine. Also, the leaves make a great tea! But you can also use the leaves instead of vanilla to flavour desserts: they have a distinctive taste which is good for biscuits, meringues and custard puddings (like Crème brûlée). It has a peppery flavour and it works!
For the meringues and biscuits I started with the Italian meringue, which is made by adding hot sugar syrup to the beaten egg white. Actually, the Italian meringue doesn't need to be cooked as the hot sugar syrup already 'cooks' the eggs, and it is often used as the base for many desserts. But yes, it can also be used for making hard meringues. The so called French meringue is mostly used in New Zealand (egg whites and sugar, rather than hot sugar syrup), and it is easier to make, but to get the kawakawa into the meringues you need a hot syrup! Once you master it you can make meringues with all sort of herbs!
250 g egg white
500 g sugar
about 150 ml water
a few kawakawa leaves, washed and broken with fingers (discard the stalks)
Beat the egg whites with 100g of sugar. In the meantime melt 400 g of sugar in 150 ml of water over a flame, and the kawakawa leaves and bring it to boil. If you have a sugar thermometer it should reach
121° C, but I don't have one and I just guess when the syrup is ready: it starts to bubble and 'smells' right.
Pour the syrup into the egg whites and keep beating until they are cold again.
Pipe the meringues on a oven try lined with baking paper and bake at 50° C for 4 hours. Leave for another day to dry completely and then enjoy!
For the biscuits:
Same recipe as above, but keep some meringue aside and then fold in a bit of self rising flour, adding a spoon at the time until you have a soft batter that is still full of air and can be piped through a pastry bag.
Pipe out some longish biscuits and then bake at 160° C for about 30 minutes, or until they smell done! Let them dry for another day before storing away. They last for ages!
Kawakawa and rose meringue: I picked some rose petals (below) and sprayed them with grappa, then I placed them in a jar with a little caster sugar for 2-3 days, not to dry them, but just to preserve the smell. Finally I folded the sugary petals into the Italian meringue before piping it on the baking tray. I used roses, but violets, gorse and other flowers would be suitable too.
I made all of these for our Slow Food foraging feast last Sunday, they were a success!
Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©