Monday, April 2, 2012

Fresh Strawberry Meringue Cake

Strawberries are ready for the picking at the pick-your-own farms in north central Texas at this time and I certainly took advantage of it this weekend!  And to make things even better, this month's issue of Southern Living gave me plenty to choose from.

The cover recipe caught Lovey's eye; it truly was an eye catcher.  I didn't have to cook Saturday night so I dove in head first to make the featured Fresh Strawberry Meringue Cake.  I half a lot of recipes if it looks do-able since we don't need a huge dessert hanging around the house for the two of us.  This one was easily halved and it turned out so cute because it was a miniature of the real thing.  Halving it was the smart thing to do as well.

Before you make this cake you need to keep two things in mind:
1.  it is not a dessert you throw together in a jiffy.  The meringue disks alone takes around 3-4 hours
2.  because it is meringue, you need to serve the cake immediately

Even by halving the recipe we had leftovers between us and the next morning the meringue had 'weeped' and the mascarpone-whipped cream mixture made it soft overnight.  B-U-T....I will confess right here and now that the taste was still great and the texture of the soft meringue was that of a mousse and I loved the texture!!  I wouldn't serve it to company like that; the same way I wouldn't serve company cold, leftover pizza.  But there were certainly no complaints in our household as to how this dessert was the next morning.  Yes, I said morning.  Yes, we ate it for breakfast at 07:00.

To make it a little easier on your time schedule, I believe that you could make your meringue disks the night before and store at room temperature in an air tight container.

The first thing you want to do is make your meringue.  This meringue has flavorful roasted pecans in it that really added to the flavor of the meringue.  The first thing you want to do is roast your pecans.

Since I had so few pecans to roast I used this little mini broiler pan.  I don't recall where I got it but it sure has been handy.  It's about 1/3 the size of the regular broiler pans that come with your ovens.  Excuse me, allow me to clarify: the broiler pans you now have to purchase  with your new ovens; the cheapskates. They don't even come packed inside the ovens, you have to send in this coupon with your money!  Shame on you KitchenAid.

This is 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Roast until browned and fragrant (about 10 to 12 minutes) then let cool completely.

(Remember I am halving the recipe, but I will give the ingredients below for the full recipe)

While the pecans are cooling, prepare your pans for the meringue.

With a pencil I drew my circles, using a cake pan, onto a piece of parchment paper.

Turn the parchment over and tape (with masking tape) to your cookie sheet and set aside.

Once the pecans are cool, you'll process them with cornstarch, salt and sugar until the pecans are finely ground (don't let them turn to butter!).

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on high until foamy.

Turn the mixer to medium-high and gradually add the sugar 1 Tbsp at a time.

Continue beating until the mixture is glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold half of the pecan mixture into the meringue until just incorporated.  Finish with the other half.

Carefully spoon the meringue into your outlines.  I used an offset spatula with a rounded tip.  I have also, in a different recipe, piped the meringue into the outlines using a pastry bag outfitted with a large round tip.  I started at the outside, following my pattern, coiling in around until I ended up in the center.

Place the meringue disks in the 250°F oven for an hour.  After the first hour turn the oven off and the oven light on and let them stay in the oven to dry for 2 - 2-1/2 hours.

Just before assembling the cake, mix the mascarpone and vanilla in one bowl  and whip the cream in another.  You will fold these two mixtures together for your filling.

To assemble, place one meringue disk on your serving plate.  Top with some of the mascarpone-whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

Repeat this two more times

For the top layer, top with the remainder of the mascarpone-whipped cream mixture and decorate with strawberry halves with the greenery left on them.

Serve immediately or refrigerate up to two hours.

Fresh Strawberry Meringue Cake
Serves 10 - 12

1 cup chopped pecans
Parchment paper
Masking tape
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups sugar, divided
7 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 - 8 ounce containers mascarpone cheese
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups whipping cream
4-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
Halved fresh strawberries

Mise en place:
  • wash strawberries.  Slice 4-1/2 cups and keep the ones you will half, whole.  Store in refrigerator
  • chop pecans (if necessary)
  • measure out cornstarch and salt
  • measure sugar into divisions: 1/2 cup - 1 cup - 1/2 cup
  • separate egg whites from yolks (save yolks for another use); let whites become room temperature
  • place mascarpone and vanilla in a small bowl and refrigerate
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 10 to 12 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.  Remove fro oven, and cool completely (about 10 minutes).  Reduce oven temperature to 250°F.

Cover 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Draw 2 (8-inch) circles on each piece of paper.  Turn paper over; secure with masking tape. (masking tape won't melt at the low temp).

Process cornstarch, salt, toasted pecans, and 1/2 cup sugar i a food processor 40 to 45 seconds or until pecans are finely ground.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy.  Gradually add 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating at medium-high speed until mixture is glossy, stiff peaks form, and sugar dissolves (2 to 4 minutes; do not over beat).  Add half of pecan mixture to egg white mixture, gently folding just until blended.  Repeat procedure with remaining pecan mixture.

Gently spoon egg white mixture onto circles drawn on parchment paper (about 1-1/2 cups mixture per circle), spreading to cover each circle completely.

Bake a 250°F for 1 hour, turning baking sheets after 30 minutes.  turn oven off; let meringues stand in closed oven with light on 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until surface is dry and meringues can be lifted from paper without sticking to fingers.

Just before assembling cake, stir together mascarpone cheese and vanilla in a large bowl just until blended.

Beat whipping cream at low speed until foamy; increase speed to medium-high, and gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.  (Do not over beat or cream will be grainy.)  Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.

Carefully remove one meringue from parchment paper; place on a serving plat.  spread one-fourth mascarpone mixture (about 2 cups) over meringue; top with 1-1/2 cups slice strawberries.  Repeat layers 2 times; top with remaining meringue, mascarpone mixture, and halved strawberries.  Serve immediately, or chill up to 2 hours.  Cut with a sharp, thin-bladed knife.

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