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
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.