Meringues bring winter relief

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2011 - 9:34 AM

Airy meringues topped with creamy filling and fresh fruit are an antidote to winter, and a herald of spring.

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The meringue nests can be formed with a pastry bag or simply with a spoon.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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The bulk of winter is behind us, but March -- historically a snowy month -- still looms. If ever we needed a taste of the tropics, it's now.

Meringues filled with equatorial fruit can do the trick. Serving individual portions makes this dessert feel even more exotic. Don't think of it as a little snowdrift, but as a sun-dappled cumulus cloud come to rest on your plate.

A meringue -- also called pavlova, after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova -- makes a great dessert for spring, as well. The play of crisp meringue, creamy filling and fresh fruit can bring an Easter meal or a Mother's Day brunch to a delightful close.

Meringues come together quickly, but require some forethought because the delicate shell of sugar and egg whites needs to cool slowly in the oven for several hours. That can work in your favor, enabling you to prepare them ahead of time.

Two concepts to keep in mind are spotlessness and patience. Even a smidgen of oily film in a bowl or on beaters, or a bit of egg yolk, will keep the whites from whipping to their greatest volume, so make sure that all surfaces are clean and dry.

It's also smart to separate whites and yolks into small bowls, then pour each white into the mixing bowl before cracking the next egg. This way, you'll avoid ruining the whole batch in case one yolk breaks while separating. (You can bet it will be the last egg.)

Once you've separated the whites from the yolks, beat the whites on low speed, with a bit of cream of tartar to help stabilize them, until the beater begins to leave soft tracks, like skis in fresh powder. Adding the sugar is an exercise in patience, sprinkling it over the whites a tablespoon at a time. Added too quickly, the sugar can simply melt into goop at the bottom of your mixing bowl.

Nor should you add the sugar too slowly. (You saw that coming, right?) If the whites are fully whipped before all the sugar is added, they can become dry and lumpy, instead of smooth and glossy.

You can use regular granulated sugar, but superfine sugar, also called baker's sugar, dissolves more quickly. You can make your own by whirring regular sugar in the blender for about 20 seconds. Whisking cornstarch into the sugar helps the whites hold their volume, resulting in the marshmallowy interior that complements the shell's crunch.

By hand or by pastry bag

Dollops of meringue, sculpted with a spoon, make luscious-looking nests. But for a more elegant look, place the meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a fluted cone. If you drape the bag in and out of a large vase first, the bag will be held upright so you can fill it single-handedly.

Then pipe a circular shape onto the parchment paper, working out from the center and building up the sides. Each meringue should be 3 to 31/2 inches across. If you prefer to use a guide, lightly pencil in a circle on the parchment.

Place the pan on the middle rack of an oven preheated to 300 degrees, then immediately reduce the heat to 200 degrees. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours. Then turn off the oven, leaving them in to cool completely, even overnight.

In the meantime, use those leftover yolks to make a tart lemon curd. When it's time to serve dessert, place a dollop of curd in each meringue, then top with a swirl of whipped cream and a tumble of diced mango, kiwi fruit and pineapple. Lower the window blinds and imagine a tropical sunset. Dream of spring.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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