Whip up simple, heavenly cloud eggs

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Woe to the mother who doesn’t keep up on what’s trending on Facebook and Instagram.

Or maybe I should just ask you to take pity on me, the clueless cook who knew nothing about cloud eggs, the pillowy egg dish that’s all the rage on social media platforms.

Who knows, maybe it’s no longer a “thing.” But, my daughters still wanted to know why we hadn’t tried it. Hadn’t I seen all those snack-sized cooking videos on the web? Wasn’t my Instagram feed full of picture after whimsical picture of the fluffy breakfast dish?

“They look super simple,” Olivia told me. “And super pretty and different.”

The girl must be learning a thing or two at college.

Trying them, I realized cloud eggs are about as easy an entree as you can imagine, and just plain gorgeous. Think mounds of billowy marshmallow fluff, only lighter, with an orb of glossy, dippy sunshine in the center.

It’s the type of dish you might coax a picky eater who professes not to like eggs with, or serve at brunch when you’ve got houseguests to impress.

With only about 160 calories per serving, they’re also a protein-rich, low-cal way to dish up a hot breakfast.

As for taste, the whites have a slightly spongy texture while the yolks are soft and silky. You can serve them on buttered toast or slide them right onto a plate.

They’re best when hot, but I also ate a leftover cloud the following morning after warming it in the microwave and topping it with hot sauce.

So what is its provenance?

You might think it’s an extension of America’s love of all things meringue. But a version of the dish was actually served 200 years before we became a country.

In an article on NPR’s website, Serious Eats culinary director Daniel Gritzer guesses its roots lie in a classic French dessert, oeufs a la neige, or eggs in snow. Soft meringues are made with egg white and sugar, and nestled in a vanilla custard. The dish dates back at least to 1651, when a recipe was published in “Le Cuisinier Francois,” a book that captured for the first time a distinctly modern way of French cooking.

Unlike today’s version, which is baked in a very hot oven, in the 17th century, the eggs were browned under a salamander and served with a simple dusting of sugar.

You can find dozens of recipes for cloud eggs on the web, but the basic premise is the same. After separating the whites and yolks, you whip the whites until a stiff peak forms, folding in whatever little bits of goodness you like to perk things up such as fresh chopped herbs, grated cheese, bits of bacon or ham, paprika or other spices. Then you mound the whites onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet, make a deep well into the center of each cloud-like form, and pop it into a 450-degree oven for 3 minutes.

After you pull them out, add a yolk to the center of each cloud, and slide them back into the oven for another 3 minutes, or until the egg is just set and the meringue starts to brown.

See? Olivia was right. Pretty darn easy, and just plain pretty.

Cloud Eggs

Note: The hardest thing about making cloud eggs is separating the eggs without breaking the yolk. It helps to slide them into cupcake liners or very small bowls. I added shredded Parmesan to my meringue and some chopped scallions, but the sky’s the limit on add-ins.

4 large eggs

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Optional fold-ins: freshly chopped herbs (chives, rosemary, dill or tarragon), finely chopped meat (bacon or ham)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Separate egg whites and yolks. Place the whites in a large bowl and yolks in 4 separate small bowls, taking care not to break them.

Season egg whites with salt and pepper. Beat them until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in cheese and other optional ingredients.

Create 4 mounds of egg whites on prepared baking sheet and make a well in the center of each to look like nests. Bake until slightly golden, about 3 minutes.

Carefully add an egg yolk to the center of each egg white cloud. Season yolk with salt and pepper, if desired. Bake until the yolks are just set, about 3 minutes more.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

— Gretchen McKay