Desserts are, for many, the highlight of a meal. From comforting to convoluted, they can take on the personality of both the chef and/or the event. Sometimes, however, the preparation of a dessert can be intimidating. How many of us have had a cake fall or a pastry crumble or cookies burn? Because of the temperamental nature of baking, many of us leave it up to the experts.
To help guarantee that the dessert you craft will be a consistent crowd-pleaser, we recommend the route of simplicity; use only the freshest of ingredients, and let these be the star of the dish.
This dessert has three components: meringue, whipped cream, and fresh fruit. The most complex component of the dish is the meringue, and with its slow and low cooking time, there is ample opportunity to monitor and correct. Its dainty aesthetic makes the finished product look much fancier than it actually is, and is sure to impress any who break into this crunchy, layered cake.
The key to this dish is the fresh fruit. Here we do not give outright specifics as to which fruit you should exploit, as the most important factor is that it is fragrant, ripe, and flavorful. Because of the neutral base flavors of whipped cream and meringue, nearly any fruit could work. At this time of year in our southern Canadian climate, berries are the most abundant and (pardon the pun) fruitful option, so these are what we employed. However, you could just as easily use mango, banana, kiwi, grapes, melon, peaches, plums, or mandarins.
(Makes 8 desserts)
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup (250 ml) of white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5ml) of vanilla extract
1 cup (250 ml) of whipping cream
2 tablespoons (30 ml) of white granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) of the freshest fruit you can find (strawberries and blueberries used here), chopped into ½ cm pieces
1 tablespoon (15 ml) of icing sugar
5 zucchini blossoms, chopped (you can also used chopped mint for colour)
Begin by chopping the fruit and allowing it to macerate in its own juices for the duration of the cooking time.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter (or ring mold or cup) trace 16 evenly spaced circles on the parchment, using a pencil. Flip the parchment paper over, so the pencil-side is on the bottom.
Preheat the oven to 225F. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached, add the egg whites and whisk on low for 1-2 minutes, until the egg whites are foamy. Increase the speed to medium and gradually begin adding the sugar, about another 1-2 minutes. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, turn the mixer onto high and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla and allow to mix, another 5 seconds.
Attach a star tip to a piping bag and fill the bag with the meringue mixture. Carefully fill each of the traced circles with the meringue in one even layer, going in circles, working from the outside in.
Bake in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours, rotating the tray halfway through the cooking process. Once the baking time has elapsed, turn off the oven and allow the meringues to dry out in the cooling oven for another 30 minutes.
Prepare the whipped cream. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached, whisk the cream and sugar on medium-high until stiff peaks form. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Once you are ready to assemble, place a meringue disk on a serving plate or tray and top with approximately 1 tablespoon of whipped cream, 1 tablespoon of chopped, macerated fruit, and crown with another meringue dish. Dust with icing sugar and chopped zucchini flowers or mint.