After a relationship break up in her late twenties, Alex Hoffler, one half on Meringue Girls, quit her loathed job in marketing and enrolled in a year’s course at Leith’s School of Cookery. Afterward, in a sweaty, male-dominated kitchen, Alex met Stacey O’Gorman. Something told them that there was a gap in the market for a new sweet food trend and they started to develop their flavoured meringue kisses. That was three years ago. Their first book Meringue Girls Cookbook sold all over the world, and their second publication, Everything Sweet, launches next month. Alex and Stacey are also incredibly successful food stylists, they have over 70,000 Instagram followers, are about to open their first Meringue Girls shop in Soho and are franchising in the United Arabs Emirates. Alex, are you an accidental entrepreneur? It was definitely a happy accident with Meringue Girls! I could never have predicted that I would be in this crazy meringue game, but saying that I have real entrepreneurial spirit in my blood. My Mum is a proper Eighties Power Suit (with shoulder pads) type and she flared my passion to start my own business. My Dad, on the other hand, has serious cooking skills. We started out cautiously, making meringues from my home kitchen, developed a website on the cheap, and set up an Instagram account with just 30 followers. Luckily, I had done quite a bit of food styling and met Jamie Oliver’s amazing photographer David Loftus, who agreed to take pictures for our website. He Instagrammed a few snaps of the rainbow crates and kisses and everything started from there. Over the next few months orders came flooding in; we moved to a shared bakery space, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Jamie Oliver's Recipease and Fortnums all got in touch wanting to stock our stuff, and two publishers contacted us for a book deal. The Rainbow Crate Are meringues the new cupcake? There was a huge movement with cupcakes and cake pops, and this was our inspiration for starting a new sweet food trend. We LOVE colour and we wanted to create a really visual rainbow of bite size meringues that were unusually flavoured, naturally coloured, and have a lovely soft texture, no chalky nests here! My favourite flavours are the gin & tonics and the unicorn poo, which is salted caramel. In an age of social media, the rainbow crate is really photogenic, so that has been great marketing for us. Despite never paying for a PR, a huge chunk of our business is catering for fashion press events, where we can tailor the colours and flavours to suit their themes. I think getting in with the fashion crowd has been an important part of the success, and that leads to fabulous press too. Alex's favourite Gin and Tonic meringues
So what is the secret to baking a perfect MG meringue? Meringues are temperamental beasts, which is why people find them so tricky to do at home. But we think we have perfected the technique. We don't add cold sugar to the stiff egg whites like a French meringue or hot sugar syrup like an Italian meringue; instead we are bang in the middle. We heat the sugar in a baking tray in 200c oven until its really hot to the touch, and then add the hot granules to the whisking egg whites. It is a foolproof method, and gives a great mallow texture and hard shell. We get our tasty flavours by adding freeze-dried fruit powders and natural essences.
It is ok to be a bit kooky even in business. Discuss. We are definitely ourselves with Meringue Girls, and try to show our personalities through the brand. I think it’s a good thing when you can feel the vibe of the business, and it isn't just a product. As well as the meringues, I absolutely love the food styling side of the business. Last week we worked with the legendary photographer Tim Walker on a shoot. He asked us to created a pie stuffed yellow canaries. It was macabre but awesome. The food styling is definitely something I will do for life. We styled both our cookbooks, so we were able to show our visions, personality and creativity there too.
Will our love affair with meringues last forever? As we saw with cupcakes, the hype of a product doesn't necessarily last. However, we aren’t a one trick pony and have heaps of ideas already bubbling away. The new cookbook definitely shows off more of our repertoire when it comes to other aspects of baking. But everything still has that colourful Meringue Girls twist. We are busier than ever, and orders go up each week, so we don't see the end in sight at the moment. We are currently limited to the UK market, but there is a whole world out there and with the franchising plans we are full steam ahead and are excited to travel and work on new logistics. Typical Meringue Girls Instagram #FoodPorn
Food and fashion: do you care what you wear to work? Today I'm wearing a denim pinafore dress, new white reeboks and a pastel t-shirt. For admin days at the bakery, it definitely doesn't matter what we have one, especially as the girls in the kitchen are baking in pinnies and comfy shoes. For shoots and meetings, Stacey and I try to dress up to compliment the image of the brand. So that means something fun, quirky, girly and colourful.