PRETTY IN PINK

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues | for the love of the south

February, the month of seemingly perpetual grey skies. When winter seems to drag on for all eternity and spring is nowhere in sight, in rambles Valentine’s Day in all its kitschy glory. This time of year, the world is in desperate need of a little color, a little life, and my answer to the call comes in the form of shockingly pink, cloudlike strawberry shortcake meringues worth swooning over. Usually I’m not one for kitsch, but on Valentine’s Day, I dive in head first.

These meringues are cartoonlike crunchy on the outside yet marshmallowy in the center. The crushed vanilla wafers remind me of slightly salty and buttery shortbread. Strawberries add a lovely tartness; meringues desperately need sharpness to balance out its sweetness. The flavor combination reminds me of those strawberry shortcake ice cream pops I loved when I was a little girl.

Yes, these meringues are over the top, but they are also a breeze to make. On Valentine’s Day, I would not have you chained all day to your oven or even think of asking you to reach for a candy thermometer. I want you to gracefully and confidently whip these up, feel like a domestic goddess and be treated accordingly. These beauties can be put together in less than thirty minutes. If you are like me, you will be watching An Affair to Remember while sipping on pink champagne as the meringues bake away in the oven. Once they come out of the oven, shower them with a final flourish of rose-hued strawberry dust. These meringues are prettier in pink, as all things are prettier in pink on Valentine’s Day.

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues | for the love of the south

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues

Makes 6 Large Meringues

Note: These meringues are adapted from Ottoleghi’s marvelous meringue recipe. He is the king of meringues. What I love most about this recipe is there are no candy thermometers or double boilers involved. I’ve included weights and measurements for the egg whites and sugar just in case you don’t have a scale. 

 

½ cup vanilla wafers

Pinch of sea salt

½ cup freeze-dried strawberries

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

300g granulated sugar (scant 1½ cups)

150g egg whites, from about 5 large eggs, room temperature

 

Preheat oven to 375oF.

Using a food processor, mortar and pestle or even a rolling pin and a heavy-duty plastic bag, pulverize the vanilla wafers. Add the sea salt to the crumbs and set aside in a shallow dish.

Pulverize the freeze-dried strawberries into a powder. Mix 1 tablespoon strawberry powder and vanilla extract together in a small dish, creating a paste. (Save the rest of the strawberry powder for dusting the meringues after they bake!)

Tip the granulated sugar onto a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and cook the sugar for 7 minutes. Keep in mind the sugar is just getting hot at this point. You aren’t caramelizing it. This step ensures the meringue will be stable without having to heat the egg whites and sugar over a double boiler.

While the sugar is heating up, separate and weigh your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl in the base of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Don’t start whipping the whites yet!)

Take the sugar out of the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 275oF. Slide the sugar into a bowl and set the baking sheet aside to cool.

Start whipping the egg whites on high speed. Once they become foamy, add the hot sugar 1 tablespoon at a time while the mixer is running. Whip on a high speed for 7-8 minutes or until the egg whites form stiff peaks. The meringue should hold its shape if you flip the whisk attachment upside down. Fold the strawberry paste gently into the meringue.

Using two large spoons, scoop a meringue mound into the vanilla wafer crumbs, tipping the meringue to one side so the crumbs cover the bottom and half of the meringue. Pick the meringue up with both spoons and place on the cooled baking sheet. Keep in mind the meringues will expand in the oven, so give them space between each other on the baking sheet. Repeat this process until you have 6 large meringue mounds.

Place the meringues in the preheated oven and bake for 2 hours.

While the meringues are still on the baking sheet, place the reserved strawberry powder in a small sieve and dust the tops of the meringues until perfectly pink! Once the meringues have completely cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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PRESERVING SUMMER

Strawberry Preserves | for the love of the south

May means the beginning of strawberry season. Strawberries are the first fruit to kick off the parade of summer produce. A procession of peaches, blackberries, muscadines and figs quickly follow. I finally finished writing and editing my cookbook and am in desperate need of sunshine and loads of preserving. Preserving seems to unsettle some, but to me it’s relaxing. I love gathering quilted glass jars and watching them reflect in the morning light onto my white marble countertops, listening to the blip, blip, blip of the strawberries as they schmooze with the melting vanilla sugar. In a matter of moments, the kitchen fills with a fragrant cloud of sweet strawberries. To me, preserving is a practical, tangible way of suspending a moment in time before it has a chance to pass me by.

Preserving | for the love of the south

Whenever I bring strawberries home, I tip them into a bowl filled with 1 part distilled white vinegar to 4 parts cold water. Let them sit in the vinegar water for 10 minutes. Swish the berries around and rinse well in cold water. Line a rimmed baking sheet or plate with paper towels and allow the berries to air dry in a single layer. If you aren’t using the berries that day, cover loosely with paper towels and stash them away in the fridge for 3-5 days. (The vinegar water cleans the berries and keeps the berries fresh for a few days.) To hull the strawberries, take a paring knife in one hand and a strawberry stripped of its leaves in the other. Spin the strawberry around the tip of the paring knife, removing the green stem and white column in the center of the berry.

Strawberries | for the love of the south

I love serving these preserves on hot toast slathered with butter, or on waffles, pancakes and French toast. They are beautiful folded into softly whipped cream or spooned over vanilla ice cream for effortless summertime desserts.

Strawberry Preserves | for the love of the south

Strawberry & Vanilla Bean Preserves

Adapted from Canal House Cooks Everyday

Makes 4, half-pint jars

Note: The lemon peel serves two purposes. The first is for flavor, but the second is the most important. Strawberries, like most soft fruits, are low in pectin, but citrus pith is high in pectin. (It’s what gives marmalades that beautiful jelly-like consistency.) Make sure you don’t skip on the pith!

1½ cups plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out

4 cups organic strawberries, washed and hulled, larger berries cut in half

Peel of 1 lemon, including the white pith (See Note)

 

Blitz granulated sugar and the vanilla bean seeds in a food processor for 30 seconds. Set aside.

Tumble the hulled strawberries in a heavy-bottomed pot. Fold in half of the sugar and bring to boil over medium-high heat stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Fold in the remaining vanilla sugar and boil for another 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently lift the berries from the syrup and lower them into a shallow bowl. Add the lemon peel to the syrup and bring to boil for 8-10 minutes, or until the syrup has thickened. Remove from the heat. Let the syrup cool slightly, and then slide the berries back in the syrup. Cover and set aside at room temperature, about 6 hours or overnight. Remove the lemon peel and ladle the preserves in sterilized jars and stash away in the fridge up to 1 month.

 

 

 

STRAWBERRY FIELDS

Strawberry Shortcakes

Pulling off onto the unpaved, bouncy road suddenly woke me from my afternoon car nap. Cars lined up and down a small driveway, pulling off onto the grass as though they were parallel parking with imaginary lines as their guides. Minivans scattered as far as the eye could see. We were all here for the same reason, to pick berries, as many as our little buckets could hold.

The farm was actually a privately owned home with a berry farm attached. We made our way past the eternal line of cars and arrived at a canopy hanging (more like dangling) over a woman sitting comfortably in her lawn chair, handing out plastic buckets for our haul.

Strawberry Shortcakes

I walked alone to find my treasures, taking in the aroma of the berries, the warmth beating down on me from the sun, and the overall thrill of imagining the countless ways to consume these beauties. I dreamt of sweet, sticky strawberry jam stretching across layers of a delicate angel biscuit, eating them in the morning in a cereal bowl filled to the brim with berries, a dash of cream and sugar, or my favorite, as dessert. Strawberries left to sit alone, unharmed with a little bit of lemon juice and sugar atop shortcakes, which are still slightly warm from the oven, and a dollop of sweet, vanilla-scented whipped cream on the side for good measure.

And as I strewn fresh berries over warm shortcakes, the aroma brings me back to those moments of picking berries in May. This recipe preserves the moment of late spring and the memories it shares.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Recipe: Serves 4

Shortcake Biscuits:

1 cup of all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

2 teaspoons of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

¾ cup of chilled heavy cream

Melted butter, for brushing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Switching to a spoon, stir in the heavy cream and gently mix until the dough begins to hold together (the dough will still be very wet at this point.)

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly flour the top of the dough. Form the dough into a 4 ½ x3-inch rectangle, about 1-inch thick (if the dough sticks to your hands, just coat your fingers in flour and continue forming the dough.) Cut the dough in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 4 rectangular biscuits.

Arrange biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 1-inch apart. Brush the tops with butter. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Strawberries:

1 pound of fresh strawberries, cleaned, and hulled

2 tablespoons of sugar

Juice of 1 large lemon (or 2 smaller lemons)

Cut the strawberries in half for smaller berries and quarter any larger berries.

Toss berries, sugar and lemon juice until berries are coated with the juice and sugar. Let the berries macerate for at least 10 minutes.

Whipped Cream:

1 cup of heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk whipping cream, sugar and vanilla together on medium-high speed until soft peaks form

Assembly:

Carefully split biscuits with a serrated knife (they are quite fragile) and brush with more melted butter. Fill the biscuits with strawberries and any liquid from the berries. Serve with whipped cream.