Mexican Strawberry Meringue Torte

by

Do not allow your taste buds to fall victim to the mediocre.

The strawberries are coming.

At the moment, supermarkets throughout the U.S. are pushing the early, Mexican import varieties. And although they look like strawberries and even smell like strawberries, they are only a tantalizing hint of the sweet and lucious berries that late Spring and early Summer will bring to our tables.

We have chosen to feature strawberries early to give you some time to think about a wonderful dessert that makes the most of one of everyone's favorites. Written out, the recipe for Mexican Strawberry Meringue Torte may look intimidating, but it really isn't. In fact, this is actually a fun dessert to prepare.

Granted, it needs a bit of a light touch, but a novice who can follow a recipe can make this beautiful dish. The citrusy flavor of Triple Sec and the addition of only a little sugar to the whipped cream enhances the flavor of the strawberries without overpowering them.

Obviously, you need the best strawberries obtainable and, despite El Niño's best efforts, we will have them. We just don't know yet how much we will have to pay for them.

"They are so much trouble, and I can't make pie crust."
  • 3 pints strawberries, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 egg whites from extra large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup sugar, preferably superfine sugar (see Note below)
  • 1-1/2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 4 teaspoon Triple Sec or Cointreau
  • whole, perfect strawberries, with tops, for garnish

Wash the 3 pints of strawberries, remove tops and slice. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar, stir, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 275°F. On a piece of parchment paper or brown Kraft paper , make two patterns by drawing circles around the bottom of a round 9-inch cake pan. Trim away all but about 1-1/2 inches of excess. Place patterns on one large or two small baking sheets.

Using your largest mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until just frothy. Then, with mixer running, sprinkle in the cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla and almond extracts. Continue beating, gradually adding sugar a tablespoon at a time, until meringue is thick, and has very stiff peaks.

Divide the meringue evenly between the two patterns. Using a spatula or spoon, shape the meringue to fill the circles and smooth tops, leaving the sides just slightly higher than the centers (centers will rise a bit). Press down firmly with spatula so that meringue makes good contact with paper.

Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then, without opening the oven door, turn off the heat, and leave the meringues in the oven for at least 2 hours. (Note: If meringues are on separate oven racks, be sure racks are far enough apart to allow for air circulation.)

When meringues are cooled to room temperature, invert and peel away the paper patterns. Meringues are delicate, but can be handled if done carefully. Place one meringue, flat side down, on a serving plate.

Take 1/2 cup of the sweetened strawberries and process 10 or 15 seconds in a blender; do not purée.

With an electric mixer, whip the cream until foamy, then sprinkle in the confectioners' sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Remove 1-1/4 cups of the whipped cream and place in a small bowl. Fold the puréed strawberries into the cream in the small bowl. Set aside. Fold the liqueur into the remaining whipped cream.

Assemble by spreading the top of the base meringue with the strawberry cream. Place the second meringue on top of the strawberry cream, flat side down. Spread the remaining whipped cream over top and sides of both layers, smoothing and correcting any irregularities in the meringue. Garnish with whole strawberries.

Serve at once, or refrigerate and serve within 1 hour. Cut in wedges and serve with the reserved strawberries spooned over the top.

Prep time: 2 Hr 30 Min; Cooking time: 1 Hr 15 Min; Total time: 3 Hr 45 Min

This is a beautiful, impressive dessert. The fact that it does not hold over well, even if refrigerated, does not detract because there are seldom any leftovers.

The meringue base may be made in advance and stored up to two days in an airtight container or frozen in the container for up to a month. Should the meringue feel sticky after storage, crisp it for 5 minutes in a 225°F oven, then turn the oven off and remove the meringue after 20 minutes.

The old wives caution against making a baked meringue on a rainy day. It may be a gamble, but I can personally attest that it can be done successfully. Central heating and air-conditioning in today's better insulated homes probably has something to do with that.

This is a perfect recipe for trying out powdered egg whites.

Texas Cooking

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