When I was in Switzerland last autumn, our hosts served us a very simple dessert that nevertheless made me sit up and take notice. They told us that it is a favorite dessert in that region: Large, crisp meringues purchased from the grocery store, served with barely-sweetened whipped cream. Together the crisp meringue and soft cream melted together into one sweet yet simple, rich yet light dessert.
This is just about the simplest dessert imaginable. You can make it with meringues purchased at the grocery store or at a bakery, or make them yourself. The recipe below is quite straightforward; it takes very little hands-on time, but you will need an electric mixer of some sort.
When I served this at a Mother's Day lunch, all my guests loved it. You pile bowls full of crisp, airy meringues, and dollop whipped cream over top. The sweet meringues are complemented by the barely-sweetened, rich whipped cream. It also happens to be gluten-free, and all together this dessert only calls for a handful of ingredients.
Serve alone, or with seasonal fruit; the raspberries livened up the taste and what would have been a rather monochromatic plate.
serves 4 to 6
4 egg whites from large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Fresh fruit, such as raspberries or sliced strawberries
Heat the oven to 250°F. Line two large baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
Put the egg whites, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Start the mixer on low speed. As the whites turn opaque start adding the sugar in small increments — just a tablespoon at a time. Continue adding the sugar, and gradually increase the speed of the mixer. You will see the egg whites turn into an opaque foam, and then a "soft plop" stage where a drizzle of the foam holds its shape on the surface of the egg whites.
After this, the egg whites will get to the soft peak stage, where they hold soft peaks on a spoon. They are still quite soft, and easily slump over. The next stage is firm peak, where the egg whites are much glossier, with a tight surface. They hold peaks on a spoon or in the bowl, but their very tips flop over. The final stage is stiff peak, where the meringue will hold almost any shape. It will form sharp, distinct points in the bowl, and it is quite stiff and glossy. It should feel smooth and silky, with no sugar grains when the mixture is rubbed between thumb and finger.
Fill a piping bag with the meringue and pipe it long, overlapping strips of meringue that form cookies about the size of your hand, or a little smaller. (See this video for more visual instruction on piping meringue.)
Bake the meringues for 75 minutes. Turn off the oven and crack it open. (Stick a wooden spoon in to hold it open, if necessary.) Let the meringues cool completely. Then remove from the oven and store in an airtight container until serving.
Whip the whipping cream with the tablespoon of powdered sugar until it forms soft peaks.
Serve each guest a meringue or two with about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream. Serve fruit on top or on the side.
(Images: Faith Durand)