Saturday, August 6, 2011

Meringues with Berries and Whipped Cream

Beautiful fluffy meringues make perfect sweet edible bowls for fresh berries. Top with whipped cream and you've got one simple but impressive dessert.

With as much moving around as we’ve done in our almost 25 years as expats, there is good and there is bad. The good is clearly the wonderful places we get to not just visit but to immerse ourselves in their culture and become friends with their inhabitants – natives and other expats alike. The bad is always the saying goodbye to that town, country, culture, those people, who have entered your heart and become a part of who you are and who you will become, even as you move onto the next country and culture and challenge. The way to make the good last, to prolong it, is to keep in touch with the special people who became family and touched your lives in a profound way you will never forget.

Carol and Greg and their sweet children are some of those special people. From Carol I learned, way back when, that people can really enjoy exercise. She was the first person I had ever met who told me she loved getting on her treadmill. It was a revelation and I thought there might be hope for me yet. (I am still hoping.)

Lately she has taught me that we are never too old to aspire to another career and that, with enough perseverance, and determination, that change of career is possible for those who want it and are willing to put in the time and effort it requires. Greg has long awed me with the example he sets as a supportive husband and, along with my own helpful, loving husband, he has shown me that good men do exist and has reinforced my sense that, while marriage for many is a push-me-pull-you proposition, it doesn’t have to be.

All of this is a prelude to another dinner invitation and another offer to bring dessert. Once again, during this time of fresh, sweet summer fruit, I had to go simple and fruit-oriented. This is one of my favorite desserts to make because it looks fancy but it isn’t difficult at all.

From Petit Mont Blancs – Delia Smith

For the meringues:
3 large egg whites
6 oz or 165g fine white caster sugar (not confectioner’s sugar)

For the filling – with plenty extra for just eating
2 lbs strawberries
12 oz blueberries
1/4 -1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the topping:
1 pint (16 oz) heavy whipping cream
1-2 pinches of cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 300°F or 150°C.

To make the meringues, place the egg whites in a large, grease-free bowl and, using an electric hand whisk (or free-standing mixer) on a low speed, begin whisking. Continue for about 2 minutes, until the whites are foamy, then switch the speed to medium and carry on whisking for another minute.

Now turn the speed to high and continue whisking until the egg whites reach the stiff-peak stage.

Next, whisk the sugar in on fast speed, a little (about a tablespoon) at a time, until you have a stiff and glossy mixture.

Now all you do is spoon the mixture on to the prepared baking sheet (I greased the pan with Pam and then put a sheet of baking parchment), spacing them evenly. (I ran out of space and ended up making seven.) Then, using the back of the spoon, hollow out the centers. Don’t worry if they are not all the same shape. Next, pop them on the center shelf of the oven, immediately reduce the heat to 275°F, 140°C, and leave them for 30 minutes.

After that, turn the oven off and leave the meringues to dry out in the warmth of the oven until it is completely cold (usually about 4 hours.) Since I knew I was serving these that night I was not so concerned about their drying completely out, and beside, I didn’t have time. Mine were probably in for just one hour after the 30 minutes with the oven on. 

If you are baking these ahead to be served much later in the day or even another day, do let them dry out and store them in an airtight container. Meringues can even be made ahead and frozen in an airtight container.

Meanwhile, prepare your fruit that will go in the hollowed out centers. Any fruit will do but our family favorite for this dessert is fresh berries. Today I chose 2 pounds of fresh strawberries and about 12 oz of blueberries. I know this is way too much fruit for the meringues, but fresh berries are so nice with whipped cream and I know they will get eaten when the meringues are gone. To just fill the meringues you probably could use half that amount. Anyway, hull your strawberries and cut the larger ones into smaller pieces. Little strawberries can be left whole. Rinse the strawberries and blueberries, drain well, then sprinkle them with the sugar.

Depending on the sweetness of your berries you may not need the whole 1/2 cup. Let your taste decide. I put as little as I think I can get away with! This time it was only the quarter cup. If you want to use Splenda or the like, that would probably work too. Add the balsamic and stir. Put this mixture in the fridge until it’s time to serve.

Another meanwhile. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form, adding a pinch or two of cream of tartar, which helps the cream stiffen and make good peaks. If you have hand beaters, this is probably not a problem, but if you have a big hands-free mixer like mine, do not walk away and do NOT overbeat as your cream will start to turn to butter. Store cream in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Assembling the Mont Blancs: Each person gets a meringue, topped with a heap of berries and a heap of whipped cream. Drizzle some of the juice over the top of the whipped cream. This is a feast for the eyes, and then the mouth, on a plate.

Greg was in charge of dinner and he barbecued succulent, tender beef ribeyes, along with grilled vegetables that would knock your socks off. We ate the leftover steak for breakfast (yes, this was a slumber party!) with buttered toast and poached eggs, courtesy of Carol. I can highly recommend the Nutter Bed and Breakfast. Love you all!


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