Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Something For Your Sweet Tooth

Like most people I know working in the arts, be it fine art or commercial practices, personal projects are what keep me going. Usually when I'm at my busiest, amidst all the chaos, inspiration will strike. Sometimes the greatest luxury during the busiest of weeks is to empty my head of all the images floating around.

Recently, the image of a bold floral print kept reappearing in my thoughts. Once that pattern was securely lodged in my brain, on thing led to another and soon I was dreaming about sweet old ladies sipping tea and snacking on sweets. Perhaps they would play bridge later in the afternoon. Thinking that I would need something rather delicate and feminine to complete the image that was slowly growing in my mind, I turned to Alie Romano of Simply Sweet, a pastry chef known for her irresistible meringues. Here's what we spent the afternoon shooting... and then eating.

While we were at it I shot some quick portraits of Alie and her magnificent pavlova topped with black cherry sauce and white chocolate curls.

Alie was nice enough to whip together a recipe as well as a few tips for making the perfect meringues.  Meringues are a nice light option for a summer dessert or after a heavy meal. With strawberry season fast approaching, she thought it would be nice to share a Sweet Strawberry Meringue with you.  

Strawberry Vanilla Meringue Baskets

For the Meringue
4 egg whites (at room temperature)
230 g (one cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp natural vanilla
few drop of red food colouring (optional)

For the Filling:

300ml of whipping cream
a pint fresh strawberries, washed and hulled.
1 Tablespoon icing sugar
1 Tablespoon white sugar

Preheat oven to 235 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl with electric beaters until frothy and stiff.  Slowly and gradually add the caster sugar while beating the egg whites, about one tablespoon at a time. Beat until thick and glossy.  Add vanilla flavouring (and food colour if using), scrape down bowl, continue beating until stiff peaks form.  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag or spoon out onto your prepared baking sheet.  Pipe approx. 9 shells keeping a few inches apart from each shell.

If piping, be sure not to compress the mixture, coil with a light hand into a circle and layer the edges to form a bowl.

If spooning, spoon approx. ½  cup to a cup of the mixture in a blob, hollow out a center and use spoon to shape the outside as desired.

Place in oven and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until meringues peel nicely off and sound hollow when tapped.  Turn oven off and leave meringues in the oven over night to dry out.

Wash and remove stems of strawberries, if using big strawberries chop into bite sizes.  Place in a bowl and toss with white sugar.  Meanwhile whip whipping cream and add icing sugar.  Fill meringue with cream and drizzle strawberries and juices over meringue shells

Tips and tricks for the perfect meringue:

• Plan to bake your meringues a day or two ahead.
• Separate your eggs when cold, it’s much easier to separate your eggs cold than at room temperature. If a bit of yolk breaks into the whites start over, that batch is no good!
• Use a metal bowl and ensure the bowl is clean of any grease. 
• When you are ready to whip your egg whites they MUST be at room temperature
• Always sift your caster (instant) sugar
• Use the whisk attachment on your mixer.. the better the mixer the better your meringues will turn out.
• Very Important: Add sugar slowly!!! Like a slow soft waterfall!
• Beat your meringues on high speed, only turn the speed down a notch when adding the sugar.. but only a little!
• Add flavouring/coloring at the end and re-whip to ensure stiff peaks and that everything is incorporated
• Once you’ve placed the meringues in the oven, keep the oven door closed! Don’t check on them until your timer goes off.  When you’re checking on them, don’t pull them out of the oven! Very carefully reach into the oven and check your meringue by lifting a meringue off the baking sheet, if it doesn’t peel off easily than continue to bake for an extra 15minutes.  If the meringue does peel off nicely than shut the oven door and turn off the oven. Leave the meringues in the oven to dry out over night. 
• Meringues aren’t ready to eat until the next day, so if you try a warm meringue you will be disappointed.. it will be chewy and sticky in your mouth, be patient and wait
• Keep meringues out of the refrigerator, they store best in metal tins.
• Whip your cream, fill your meringue and allow to soften  10-20 minutes before serving

Happy Baking!