Pecan Meringues Stacked with Whipped Cream and Strawberry Sauce
From Fearless Baking (Canada, UK), by Elinor Klivans.
These individual pecan meringues layered with whipped cream and strawberry sauce let everyone dig into their own personal dessert. Meringues that are doubly crisp from the addition of crunchy pecans and heaped with smooth whipped cream and sauce become stacks of pure indulgence. Frozen strawberries serve as an always-available fruit to use for the sauce.
Since humidity puts moisture back into crisp meringues and softens them, they should be stored in a dry place. When the weather is humid, I usually wrap the cooled meringues and store them in the freezer until I am ready to use them. On the other hand, I have found that in dry weather the wrapped meringues can be stored at room temperature for as long as 5 days.
I grind the pecans for the meringues in a food processor and process them up to the point that some small pieces of pecans, about 1/8 inch in size, remain among the ground nuts.
Defrost the strawberries for the sauce before pureeing them in a food processor or a blender. Then press the strawberry puree through a strainer to remove any pulp and make the sauce smooth. A blender also works well for pureeing the strawberries.
The cream is beaten to the firmly whipped stage.
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup coarsely ground pecans, largest pieces about 1/8 inch
One 16-ounce carton sliced frozen strawberries in syrup, defrosted and not drained
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 cups cold whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 whole strawberries for garnishing the meringues, optional
Mix the Meringues:
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter the paper lightly and dust it with powdered sugar. With the tip of a dull knife and pressing lightly, mark twelve 3-inch circles 1 inch apart on the parchment paper. A 9-ounce paper cup turned upside down makes a good guide for marking the circles.
Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean large bowl and use an electric mixer with clean dry beaters on medium speed to beat the egg whites until they are foamy and the cream of tartar is dissolved, about 15 seconds. Increase the speed to high and continue beating the egg whites until they look white, shiny, and smooth, and the movement of the beaters forms lines in the mixture, about 30 seconds. Move the beaters around in the bowl if using a handheld electric mixer. If you stop the mixer and lift up the beaters, the whites should cling to them. Slowly beat in the granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon every 15 seconds, beating for another 15 seconds after the last addition of sugar. Beat in the powdered sugar in 2 additions, beating for about 15 seconds after each addition. I time adding the sugar at the beginning so I don't have a tendency to rush it. Stir in the vanilla. The tiny bubbles that were visible before the sugar was added have disappeared and the mixture is silken smooth and soft yet firm in texture. It looks like whipped marshmallow. Use a large spatula to fold in the pecans.
Put a dab of meringue on the baking sheet underneath each corner of the parchment paper to hold the paper in place. Drop large tablespoonfuls of the meringue mixture over each marked circle. Use a thin metal spatula to spread the mixture over each circle, holding the flat side of the spatula on the meringue mixture and sweeping it back and forth in small sweeps to spread the meringue to an even thickness. When you lift the spatula, it makes a little curl on the top of the meringue; this is fine. The meringues will be about 1/2 inch thick. The meringues do not spread or rise much during baking.
Bake the Meringues:
Bake for about 1 hour until the meringues feel crisp on top and are lightly colored. Cool the meringues on the baking sheet until cool to the touch, about 1 hour. Once the meringues cool, they are ready to fill or can be sealed in a metal tin for up to 2 days, or up to 5 days if the weather remains dry. It is better not to bake meringues on a rainy or humid day, but if you must, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the oven until they are cool, about 2 hours. Then, freeze the cooled meringues or leave them in the turned-off oven to use later in the day.
Make the Sauce:
Put the strawberries and their liquid in a food processor. Process to form a puree. Place a strainer over a small bowl and put the pureed strawberries in the strainer. Press the strawberries against the strainer to strain a smooth puree into the bowl. Discard any pulp in the strainer. Stir the lemon juice into the strawberry sauce. The sauce is ready to use or it can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Whip the Cream:
Put the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a clean large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the cream is softly whipped. The movement of the beaters forms curving lines in the cream at this stage. The whipped cream forms a soft mound when it is spooned onto a plate. The whipped cream can be covered and refrigerated up to 2 hours.
Assemble the Stacks and Serve the Meringues:
When you are ready to serve the meringue stacks, have ready 6 dessert plates. Put 1 meringue, bottom side down, on each plate. Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of whipped cream over each. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of strawberry sauce over each. Place a meringue bottom-side down gently on top of the strawberry sauce and top with more whipped cream and strawberry sauce. Serve immediately. A whole strawberry makes a nice garnish, if desired.
Yield: Makes 12 meringue circles to serve 6