Browsing articles in "Fruit Celebrations"
Jul 1, 2011

Eton Mess, American-Style

What do you mean it’s the Fourth of July next week? My head is still in, like, March or something. At the risk of totally sounding like Andy Rooney, where has this year gone? Really, people.

Anyway, since the Fourth is upon us, what are all you Americans out there doing to celebrate this fabulous summer holiday? I hope you’ve got all kinds of plans that involve sunshine, warm temperatures, a grill and cold beverages. Maybe even a swimming pool. And hey, while you’re there, remind me what that’s like, will you? Because I’ve spent the past several Fourths of July freezing in the fog in San Francisco. But this year, I plan to fake it. I will grill, I will wear something summery (with a huge sweatshirt over it), and above all, I will make a patriotic dessert like this completely perfect Eton Mess. Even you are off somewhere that actually has summer temperatures in summer (what a novel idea!), this is the very best sweet treat you could possibly put in your face to celebrate our great country. 

Never mind that Eton Mess is actually a British thing and maybe it’s kind of bizarre to go British on America’s holiday, but hey, when something’s this good, it really, really doesn’t matter. Eton Mess is basically a deconstructed pavlova, which, by the way, is the most perfect dessert ever created and I’m pretty sure I would make that my pick for my last meal on earth. You just can’t beat the combination of billowy whipped cream, crunchy, sweet meringues that melt on the tongue, and a punch of fresh berries. Divine. 

This recipe is really not so much a recipe as it is a basic idea. Although berries, especially strawberries, are the traditional way to go here, there is no earthly reason why you couldn’t use stone fruits or tropical fruits or whatever. The tartness of raspberries plays especially nicely with the sweet meringues and cream in this version, and of course a smattering of blueberries adds a bit of July Fourth jazziness. Dress it up by layering it in fancy champagne or parfait glasses, lay everything out buffet-style and have people make their own dang dessert, or throw the whole lot in a big glass bowl and go at it with a spoon. Whatever you want! You are free to make your Eton Mess all your own! Now that’s America, right there.

Eton Mess

Although you can absolutely make your own, I love store-bought meringue cookies for this recipe because they’re always very firm and crisp, and really, there’s nothing easier. Just read the label and make sure you’re getting ones that just contain egg whites, sugar and vanilla– no funny business. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have good ones. 

If you want to experiment with other fruits here (I’m thinking peaches would be insanely delicious), just peel and chop them fine for the sauce and use your judgement with the sugar and lemon juice needed to balance the sweetness of the fruit you choose.

Frozen raspberries work perfectly fine here for the sauce–just get a small package of fresh ones to toss in for texture. Freshly whipped real cream is the ticket to heaven here. 

Serves 6

3 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 6-ounce container fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled (or more, if you like–I sure do)
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed vanilla meringue cookies (or more, if you like–again, I sure do)

Combine two containers of raspberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and the lemon juice in a small saucepan set over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, mashing the berries with a fork. Cook until the berries have broken down and the sugar has dissolved, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the third container of fresh raspberries. Pour  the sauce into a bowl and chill completely, either in the refrigerator or the freezer to cool it down quickly.

Whip the cream and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff peaks. When the raspberry sauce is cold, assemble the parfaits. Start by placing a dollop of whipped cream in the bottom of six dessert glasses. Spoon a bit of raspberry sauce over the cream, followed by a smattering of meringue pieces. Spoon on more cream, dot on some blueberries, and sprinkle on more meringue. Repeat the layers, alternating raspberry sauce and blueberries after the cream layers. Serve immediately.

Jun 21, 2011

Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake

I debated about telling you about this, but I’m just gonna put it all out there, people. The Piece of Cake kitchen (which is to say ME) has been on a diet. Like, an honest-to-God, excruciatingly boring, buckets of salad, no-sugar diet. Today is Day 9. Perhaps you can guess by my counting of the days that said diet has not been fun. You would be correct in guessing that. Congratulations. Take yourself out for the ice cream that I can’t have.

Now if you’ve been around here for a while, you might be saying, “What?! This is not the Shauna we know! The Shauna we know laughs in the face of calorie counters and sleeps with a bag of granulated sugar on her nightstand!” Well. That would also be correct. However, with the cookbook manuscript now complete, it was high time for a reset. A hard reset. When you give a person with a mouth full of sweet teeth an occupational reason to eat candy and cake all the livelong day for many, many months, the result is definitely not smaller pants, I’ll just tell you that right now. I’m not trying to become an Olsen triplet or anything, I just need to sort of regulate the whole situation over here, you feel me?

So I’m going hard core just for the next couple weeks, all protein and vegetables and sparkling water like a psycho Bravo Network housewife. The goal is to reduce sugar cravings (or at least get them somewhere near a non-epidemic level) and not bleed corn syrup when I cut myself shaving. After that, I’ll gradually start getting back to healthy levels of dessert consumption (read: maybe not, oh, say, five flippin’ times per day). Truthfully, despite being waaay out of my comfort zone, I am feeling a whole lot better already. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start throwing brownies made with black beans and Splenda or some other crazy talk at you. Evidence: a perfectly lovely Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake. Or, as I like to call it, The Last Dessert before all this no-sugar diet nonsense started.

For your own sense of well-being, I really, really hope strawberries are as glorious where you are as they are in California right now. And if you are in California, can I get a HECK YEAH? Glittering cartons of berries are spilling over in the supermarkets right now, and if you head out to some of the smaller towns, you’ll find tons of the kind of charming little ramshackle roadside fruit stands that food magazine dreams are made of. The berries taste like candy, they smell like flowers, they are absolute perfection straight up on their own.

But because I am who I am (never mind that I’m snacking on bell pepper strips, for the love of God), I feel like the thing Mother Nature intended for us to do with a pile of perfect in-season strawberries is to bake them into a tender buttermilk cake. Add a sweet-salty caramel to the mix to make those berries all glossy and jammy and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL SOMEONE FOR A PIECE OF THIS CAKE RIGHT NOW.

Deep breath. This too, shall pass. Now go bake this cake and eat the whole thing and don’t tell me about it.

Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake

Although this cake will keep nicely in a cake dome for a few days at room temperature, it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Serve with some unsweetened whipped cream and die of summer happiness.

Serves 8

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 pints strawberries, patted dry, hulled and halved
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Have ready a 9-inch nonstick cake pan. If your pan is not nonstick, spray it generously with cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, combine 4 tablespoons of the butter, the brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir over high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes. Pour the caramel into the bottom of the cake pan and spread into an even layer. Arrange the strawberry halves over the caramel in a circular pattern, leaving little to no space between the berries.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the egg yolks. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture with the buttermilk in three batches. When just a few streaks of flour remain, fold the batter by hand until smooth.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar to firm peaks. Stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest of the whites until the batter is smooth and well-blended. Pour the batter over the fruit and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting it onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with unsweetened whipped cream.
Nov 24, 2010

Double Cranberry Sauce

If you buy a pre-cooked turkey.

If you make stuffing from a box.

If the gravy you crave comes from a jar.

I judge you for none of it. You go on and love all up on yourself and do what makes Thanksgiving taste like Thanksgiving to you. Whatever makes you celebrate the heck out of this grand American tradition during which we do nothing but eat like a bunch of crazies is all right by me. But can I make one teeny, tiny suggestion? If you make nothing else from scratch whatsoever, go on and do something nice for yourself and your loved ones and adorn your plates with this cranberry sauce. And experience the sort of intense admiration that perhaps the inventor of that weird-but-iconic cornucopia thing experienced on a Thanksgiving long, long ago.

Think of a great homemade cranberry sauce as the crown jewel on a glorious meal of splendor. If you’re the kind that slaves over the meal for weeks leading up to the actual holiday, clipping recipes months ahead of time, nuturing a bread starter in September, brining your heritage bird for days–then this ruby-red accoutrement is the sort of thing that just makes everything that much more magical.

But if you’re more of the type to make a few calls and leave the heavy lifting to the experts, whipping up a batch of this cranberry sauce is still the absolute right thing to do–elevating the meal to a home-cooked level, a jazzy and impressive little button that you can call your own. And really, what else do we yearn for with our holiday cooking and baking other than to be jazzy and impressive?

Even better, the impressive jazziness of which I speak can be yours with mere minutes of prep time and less than 30 inactive minutes on the stovetop, save an occasional stir or two. Sweet-tart, bold with citrus and a good hit of brandy. The texture here is what I think makes it a real winner–it starts with fresh cranberries and finishes by folding in dried cranberries which plump a bit as the sauce cools, but maintain their character and intense, almost winey, cranberry flavor. Double cranberry sauce. Double awesome. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Double Cranberry Sauce

Use a slightly bigger pot than you think you might need for this recipe–the bubbling can get quite intense and climb high up the sides of the pot in a flash. Adjust the heat as needed to keep it at a nice even simmer and not a fierce boil. I like to use organic citrus here since the entire fruit is zested. I make this sauce several days before Thanksgiving–it keeps great tightly covered and chilled, and tastes best when it has a few days to relax in the refrigerator.

Makes about 4 cups

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 large orange, zested and juiced
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons brandy
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries (like Craisins)

Place the cranberries in a large saucepan or other heavy-bottomed pot with the water and sugar. Stir and bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the cranberry skins begin to pop open, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in the diced apple, lemon and orange zests and juices, salt and brandy. Continue to simmer over medium heat until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dried cranberries. Transfer the sauce to a heatproof bowl or container and let cool a bit before covering and refrigerating, up to 1 week in advance. Serve slightly chilled.

Sep 19, 2010

Late Summer Plum Jam

Do you ever get all fired up about the idea of certain food projects? Like you see a thing about pickling or bread making with a carefully nutured starter or something and out of nowhere you’re all, “Yes! Why don’t I do that?! I should be doing exactly THAT!”. And then you head directly to a kitchenware shop and drop ridiculous money on unitasking kitchen tools that you end up using exactly once?

Yeeeaaahhh. I’ve done that a time or two.

Like, say, jam making. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve boiled down fruit with sugar and canned it. And it’s sad, really. Because homemade jam is such a delightful thing to make and eat and give to other people. A true beacon of Americana, if you will.

Plus I own all the equipment I need to do some serious jam making without acquiring burns on 75 percent of my body (note: I say this because I bought said equipment after my own Macgyvered jam-making tools failed miserably and threatened to leave me with burns on 75 percent of my body). So the other day I told myself to get it together, brave the crazies at the mid-week Civic Center farmers’ market, see what was good and fresh and fruity, and make jam out of it. Plums won, big time.

Besides making you feel like you’re in a Norman Rockwell painting, jam making is one of those activities that sort of centers you. Chopping fresh fruit, measuring out sugar, dumping both in the biggest, oldest pot you’ve got, stirring, stirring, stirring with a big wooden spoon. It’s glorious. this is the stage of jam-making when I always wonder why in the world I don’t do this more often.

I get visions of making jam of every conceivable fruit combination and gifting my friends with carefully preserved jars that they can pop open months later for a taste of summer, when berries and stone fruits have long past their peak. It’s so romantic. Until–fast forward 30 minutes later–I am cursing while running my hand under cold water because of a wayward molten jam splatter. But when the jars are filled, capped and lined up, cooling on the counter, I’m glowing with acheivement, again wondering why I don’t do this more often, seared skin notwithstanding.

This batch of plum jam was nothing short of super late summer bliss. Bright, sweet-tart, hints of lemon, vanilla and a gossamer blanket of cinnamon to warm the whole thing up. And tasting exactly like a plum Jolly Rancher, if they ever made one. Can’t explain it, but it’s totally true. I’m just passing on my feelings to you here, like good friends do. Neosporin-ed hands and all.

Late Summer Plum Jam
Makes about 5 half-pint jars

Any variety of plums will work here. I found some lovely ones with a ruby-red interior that made for a stunning shade of jam, but those cute little Italian prune plums that are happening right now would be great too. Since plums are so thin-skinned, peeling isn’t necessary, so buying organic ones is an especially great idea.

If you want to can your packed jam jars, check out this great resourceCanning 101.

3 pounds plums (any variety–see note), washed, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon, if you can find it)

In the biggest, heaviest pot you’ve got, stir together the plums and sugar. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has given off some juice and the sugar has mostly dissolved, about 1 hour.

Set the pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, vanilla bean and cinnamon. Bring to a hard boil, stirring often, until the jam is thickened and runs off the back of a spoon in big, heavy drops, about 25-30 minutes. While the jam is cooking, skim off any foam that comes to the surface. To test for doneness, spoon a dollop of jam onto a freezing cold plate and let it sit for a minute or two–of you can run your finger through the dollop and a track remains, the jam is done.

Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top of each jar. Cap tightly and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, or store in the refrigerator.

Jul 8, 2010

Sweet Cherry Crostadas

Okay, so I know a few posts back I was proclaiming apricots to be the cutest produce ever, but that was a week before cherries starting taking over our lives. Oh, cherry, baby. So adorable, so delicious, so perfect right now. Particularly when they are encased in buttery, flaky pastry like these Sweet Cherry Crostadas. Let’s do this.

No one loves a big celebratory summer fruit pie more than I do, but there’s just something about making big old desserts in miniature form that gets me all sorts of happy. Maybe it’s because I was a girl who grew up playing with wee little Charmkins and My Little Ponies. Maybe it’s because I like being able to scale a recipe up or down and not have an entire pie taunting me from the kitchen counter. Or maybe it’s because I not-so-secretly hate sharing. But any reason is a good one to make these individual cherry crostadas, I’ll tell you that right now.

This recipe is so fantastic for summer, because the cherries are really the star here. And it’s super, super simple, guys. We’re talking minutes to throw together a crust in the food processor (and even if you do it by hand, it doesn’t take that much longer), and while the dough is resting the fridge, recruit a friend or willing domestic partner to help pit the cherries. And if you can rig up a clever way to pit them, like, say, with a fondue fork over a beer bottle to catch the pits, it will make you feel like Macgyver and make the whole thing that much more fun.

And can I just say that pitting cherries is as delightful as shucking corn, which is to say the sort of glorious summer kitchen work that makes you wish you were a farmer’s wife? I mean, until it occurred to me that farmer’s wives also have to do many, many other things that are very unlike prepping beautiful summer fruits and vegetables and have to be constantly resourceful and at the ready at every moment of the day so I gave up that idea right quick. Turns out you get a lot of thinking done pitting cherries.

There’s nothing truly revolutionary about the fruit and pastry pairing, but since I can’t seem to get over the craving for it lately, I’ve started playing around with a few things that make for nice little twists on the classic. Turbinado sugar sprinkled over the crust and topping of any fruit/pastry situation adds a lovely golden sparkle and a nice rustic crunch, for one. And because I can’t seem to get enough of the dreamy natural flavors that bloom when fruits meet nuts, I decided to toss the cherries for these crostatas in some almond meal to help thicken the juices rather than cornstarch or flour, and scattered extra across the bottoms of the pastry cases to keep the crust from getting saturated with juice. Practical and flavorful, hooray! I felt especially smart after that decision. Like farmer’s wife smart. I celebrated by eating two crostadas. You should, too.

Sweet Cherry Crostadas

Almond meal can be purchased at specialty grocers like Whole Foods or Trader Joes and most health food stores, or you can just make your own by finely grinding raw almonds in a clean coffee grinder (don’t overprocess though or they’ll turn into almond butter). Taste your cherries before starting and gauge how much sugar you want to add–you may need a bit more than 2 tablespoons, or perhaps none at all.

Serves 8

1 recipe My Favorite Pie Crust, chilled

2 pounds sweet cherries, pitted
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup almond meal
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the pie dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rough circle, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick–don’t worry about making perfect circles or smooth edges.

Toss the cherries in a large bowl with the sugar 2 tablespoons of almond meal. Beat together the egg and milk in a small bowl.

Assemble the crostadas one at a time by placing the dough circles on the baking sheet, brushing each lightly all over with the egg wash and sprinkling each evenly with the remaining almond meal. Divide the cherries equally among the dough circles, leaving a full 1-inch edge all around. Fold the pastry edges up and over the filling (leaving the filling uncovered in the center), pleating as you go to make the dough fit tight against the fruit. Place the baking sheet with the assembled crostadas in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for an hour.

When you’re ready to bake, position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees.

Brush the edges of the crostadas lightly with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle all over (pastry and filling) with turbinado sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden and the cherries are soft and bubbling. Cool on a wire rack before serving with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Jun 13, 2010

Apricot-Raspberry Marzipan Tart

Of the many cheery little fruits that are all up in our area this time of year, I can’t think of any more adorable than apricots. I mean, they fit right in that little crook of your curled palm like a wee baby chick. And with their sweet fragrance and soft skin the color of a glowing sunset, all shades of orange and blushing pink fading into each other, well, can you blame me for nuzzling a few under my nose and, okay, maybe even cooing a little in the produce section last week? Don’t answer that. Here, have a big slice of this delicious Apricot-Raspberry Marzipan Tart to distract you from that completely rhetorical question.

I am always completely enchanted by the magical marriage of fruits and nuts. It’s sort of mind-blowing how some flavors are just so naturally perfect together, isn’t it? Like plums with walnuts, peaches and pecans, pears and apricots with almonds. The way the acid and sugar of certain fruits play with the oils and earthy crunch of nuts–it’s natural goodness on such an other-worldly level, you can practically hear Mother Nature somewhere in the distance going, “Ha! Awesome, right? I know! I made that up, y’all! Boo ya!”

But this tart is so much more than a delicious piece of fruit and a handful of nuts when you’re feeling snacky (which I hear some virtuous celebrity people indeed consider a snack–I’ve read this more than once in the pages of Us Weekly while clearing an entire bag of Pop Chips). This tart is cute little apricots, sprightly raspberries and almonds plus nutty pastry and a tweedy, crumbly topping with hunks of sweet almond paste woven through it. Now that’s my kind of snack, Angelina.

If you need an extra little push to try this gem of a recipe, consider this: if you’ve been baking along with POC recently, maybe you made that pretty little Apple-Frangipane Galette from a few weeks ago. And maybe you bought a pretty standard seven-ounce tube of almond paste to make it, but only used four ounces in the recipe, so like me, you stored the remaining three ounces in the refrigerator. And maybe this recipe amazingly calls for three ounces of almond paste! And maybe I am an enabler. A wacky, apricot-nuzzling enabler. Enjoy!

Apricot-Raspberry Marzipan Tart
Adapted from Ripe for Dessert

When making the filling, be sure to add the raspberries last, as they have a tendency to fall apart when they’re really ripe. If yours seem particularly fragile, just dot them on top of the apricots before sprinkling on the topping.

Serves 8

For the dough:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk

For the marzipan topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (3 ounces) almond paste, crumbled
1/4 cup sliced almonds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled

For the filling:

12 to 14 medium apricots (about 1 pound), halved, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh raspberries

To make the dough, place the flour, almonds, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg yolk and process until the dough comes together–it may look too dry at first, but keep the processor running and it will come together.

Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pierce 16 times with the tines of a fork. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and chill for at least 1 hour.

When the tart shell is completely chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prebake the tart shell for 18 minutes, or until its a deep golden brown. Large air bubbles will form in the crust as it bakes, so halfway through baking, press the dough down with the back of a spatula. Cool the prebaked shell on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.

To make the almond topping, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, crumbled almond paste and almonds. Add the butter and work it into the mixture with your fingertips until the butter pieces are about the size of corn kernels. Set aside.

For the filling, toss the apricots with the cornstarch and granulated sugar. Gently fold in the raspberries.

To assemble the tart, spread the filling evenly over the crust and sprinkle the topping over it. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the topping is slightly golden and the juices are bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

May 25, 2010

Strawberry Angel Pavlovas

Let’s just get one thing straight right now: I’m a Midwestern person at heart. Born and raised in Illinois and proud of it. It’s a wonderful place to be from, and to me, there’s no better place to be in the summer. But I’ve lived in California for seven years, and although I used to think that someday I’d return to where I’m from to raise my kids, now you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. Or at least grumbling the whole way. Because I’ve been brainwashed in that crazy way that so many Californians are, which is to say that, generally speaking, I totally believe that there’s no better place to live. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. The mild weather, the ability to see the mountains and the ocean in the same day, and all our year-round crazy sexy produce. I never understood the appeal of an avocado until I moved to California, and the strawberries, people. The strawberries!

Now, we have access to decent strawberries pretty much all year, but man, when prime strawberry season really hits here, we’ve got insanely gorgeous ones coming out our ears at criminally cheap prices. Pints at the registers in corner stores, full flats being hocked on street corners, even the organic berries are a steal right now. The fragrance smacks you in the face as soon as you walk into even the largest supermarket, piles of the kind of glistening, plump fruit that reveals a bleeding red interior all the way through when sliced. Like strawberries on Mother Nature’s steroids, I tell you. So awesome. And although I love a sparkling sorbet or a great shortcake recipe to showcase them, I think I’ve found my new favorite way to love on strawberries in their prime. I give you Strawberry Angel Pavlovas.

This recipe was inspired by one from the grande dame of the California culinary scene, she of the famous waffle recipe, Marion Cunningham. Her recipe for Strawberry Angel Pie got an instant bookmark–what’s not to obsess over when you’re dealing with a pie that involves a crisp meringue crust, billows of freshly whipped cream dotted with strawberries and dreamy lemon cream? Huminuh, huminuh.

As I’m wont to do with recipes with which I become obsessed, I thought about making that dang pie pretty much nonstop as soon as I found it, but hesitated because of the high risk of wasted delicious food. See, despite the insatiable sweet teeth that reside in this household, I really doubted we could demolish an entire pie in a day (not that I mentioned this to the husband, for fear he’d take pause, raise an eyebrow and ask if I’d care to make it interesting). And the reason it would all need to go down within one day is that with a base of delicate meringue and temperamental whipped cream, this is the sort of thing that you have to assemble and put in your face before it all starts to break down. But then I got all smart all of a sudden and opted to make pretty-pretty individual Strawberry Angel Pies, Pavlova-style.

Pavlova, for the record, would probably be up there for dessert after my very last meal. Not that I’m anticipating having my last meal anytime soon. That’s a horrible thing to say. How morbid. Sorry. But really, guys–crisp on the outside, marshmallowy-inside meringue shells topped with a bright lemon cream and whipped cream and peak of the season strawberries? Perfection. So perfect, it should be someone’s very first dessert. So let’s say that instead. The first dessert for a brand new, sweet-smelling little baby angel from heaven. There, that’s much better.

Strawberry Angel Pavlovas
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook

If you’d like to make this recipe into a pie like the original, then just spread the meringue in a buttered 9-inch pie plate, and bake just like you would for the shells. Fill with the lemon cream, then pile on the strawberry whipped cream.

Whether you make the individual Pavlovas or just one big pie, save your assembly for right before your serve it. The meringue can be baked a day in advance (store airtight), the strawberries sliced, and the lemon custard made the day before, stored in the fridge with a sheet of plastic wrapped pushed right on the surface (rewarm it a bit by placing the bowl in a pan of warm water and stirring well, just too loosen it up a little). This recipe can be halved to make four Pavlovas–just use a handheld mixer for the smaller amounts of eggs and cream.

Serves 8

4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

For the meringues: In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, then slowly rain in 1 cup of the sugar. Beat on high until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Portion the meringue into 8 mounds on the baking sheet, a generous 1/4 cup full each (a standard ice cream scoop works well to keep things even). Using a spoon, shape each mound into a little meringue nest, each about 4 inches in diameter. To create a small well in the center of each meringue shell, first rest the bowl of the spoon in the center of each meringue, horizontal to the baking sheet, then hold the spoon by the very end of the stem and turn it in a circle as you pull it up and off the meringue.

Bake the meringues in the center of the oven until they are firm and lightly golden, about 1 hour. Let them cool completely on the baking sheet in the turned-off oven with the door open.

For the lemon custard: Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until they are thick and pale yellow. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the lemon juice and zest. Scrape the mixture into a small, nonreactive saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the custard cool completely.

For the strawberries: Place the strawberries in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar and toss well to coat. Set aside.

When you’re ready to assemble the Pavlovas, whip the cream until it hold stiff peaks (you should have about 3 cups whipped cream). Fold 1 cup of the whipped cream gently into the lemon custard. Fold the strawberries into the remaining 2 cups of whipped cream.

Place the meringues on individual plates. Divide the lemon cream equally among the 8 meringue shells, and top with the strawberry whipped cream. Garnish with more strawberry slices. Serve immediately.


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