Methylcellulose is an odd little chemical. You've most likely come across it in toothpaste or ice cream, where it's used as a bulking agent, but it's also used as a treatment for constipation, the main ingredient for gunge used in children's television shows (and the effects for Ghostbusters
), and ahem, also used as a substitute in certain 'specialist' films.
It helps not to think of the last one when cooking with it.
A few weeks ago, Stacie and I tried to use Methylcellulose to make 'hot ice cream'. Our results were not entirely spectacular. But I knew there were other applications for it in the kitchen, so I thought I'd get a batch at home and experiment.
To add to the madness, Bonnie and I took leave of our senses and ordered a Kitchen Aid stand mixer this Wednesday.
It is glorious. And it also allowed me to consider making eggless meringues. It's fairly simple: methylcellulose is not soluble in hot water, but it is in cold. This has the odd effect of making a solution turn solid when heated. To make an ersatz meringue, all you should have to do is add methylcellulose, whip it into a mixture, and then bake it in the oven!
I thought about it. And thought about it some more. I decided that the best use of this knowledge would be to make a Pimm's and lemonade meringue. Well, you would really, wouldn't you?
I added a touch of xanthan gum to thicken up the drink before adding in the methylcellulose. This is where things went wrong. Because I used carbonated lemonadem the combination of MC and the gum caused the bubbles in the liquid to stay instead of it going flat. Plus it had the rather unfortunate side effect of turning the drink light yellow/brown.
Still, after being mixed in the Kitchen Aid for just over 15 minutes, it had risen quite impressively. The texture is a bit like Angel Delight but much frothier.
It was at this point that I forgot I was supposed to put it in the oven. I blame a trying day at work.
After losing a can of Dr. Pepper to the curse of the brown bubbles, I got out my handy carton of orange juice and made up a smaller batch using that. This time, I did remember to put it in the oven (150°C for 5-10 minutes).
This is an orange meringue. If I had a blow torch, it'd probably look a bit more done. But if I had a blow torch, my sister would have set me on fire by now, so it's good that I don't.
The trouble with the technique is that methylcellulose doesn't hold its shape for very long; as soon as the temperature dips below the setting point, it begins to turn back into a liquid. You have to eat it fast, I guess.
The same technique can also be used to make vegan-friendly marshmallows. To test that, I used Diet Coke. They looked pretty good, but the taste is pretty vile. Next time, I think I'll try a batch using raspberry puree or a liquid mixed in with a sugar syrup.