Do the Merengue

"If I couldn't cook, I would have no reason to live." I said this to someone the other day and she knew exactly what I meant, because she, too, would rather cook than do anything else.

In today's hurried and stressful world where drive-thrus, frozen/pre-packaged food and quick service restaurants are the norm, there is also a growing segment who completely disagree with the way America eats. I definitely see the pendulum swinging back to real food and cooking and I couldn't be happier. Maybe some people couldn't live without their glue gun or gardening gloves or exercise class or perhaps their camera is their voice. I get it. My voice is cooking.

And I use it whenever and however I can. Whether I am cooking to feed my hunger, fuel our souls or give someone a reason to smile, it's what I enjoy doing. And there is no reason more powerful than to provide a wholesome and hearty home cooked dessert for a family member who is at home recovering from surgery.

Someone else was providing dinner, so I offered to make dessert and deliver it so we could enjoy visiting and savoring something sweet together. Having brought four pints of organic strawberries home from the farmers market on Sunday (two pints from two different farmers), and the fact that this is the week before Easter, a pavlova-like, gluten and grain-free meringue dessert will make everyone feel rejuvenated, give reason for rejoicing and doing the merengue!

Buen provecho!



Hazelnut Meringue with Whipped Cream and Strawberries
The Cowgirl Gourmet found this recipe on Saveur.com

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My father loved a dessert at Luby's called Butternut Brownie Pie and this very much reminds of that, but without the graham crackers. Instead, this recipe calls for toasted and ground hazelnuts combined with egg white meringue and sugar. I cut the sugar by 1/3 and it was still plenty sweet. The texture of the meringue cake is sublime...crispy on the edges and goopy in the center. A lovely combination of flavors, textures and sweetness and a great way to celebrate the arrival of Spring!

Serves 8-10

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts
10 egg whites  (reserve the yolks and I'll show you what to do with them next week)
2 cups superfine sugar (to make this superfine, I just put it in the food processor for a few pulses and it was very smooth)
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 lb. strawberries, organic, hulled and sliced in half or in quarters if they are really big

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the hazelnuts onto the pan. Place in oven and toast for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.

Remove the toasted hazelnuts from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. (Reserve the baking sheet and parchment paper for baking the meringue.) Then place the nuts onto a dish towel and rub them together like crazy. This will remove the brown skins. You won't be able to get all of the skins off, so don't fret. Just do what you can. Then place the nuts in the food processor and pulse until ground. You don't want them too finely ground nor too chunky, but just right.



 

Remove the nuts from the food processor and place in a bowl. Now put the granulated sugar in the food processor and pulse a few times so it becomes finely ground. Set aside.

Carefully separate the yolks from the whites. If any yolk gets into the whites, you need to start over, so I recommend using two small bowls for this step. One bowl to catch the whites and another for the yolks. Once the white is perfectly separated from the yolk. pour it into a big mixing bowl where you can make the meringue. repeat this step until all of the 10 egg whites and yolks are separated.



In a big mixing bowl, begin to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.


Add half of the sugar and beat again to stiff peaks.


Gently fold in the hazelnuts and remaining sugar.


Pour meringue onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet and, using an offset spatula or rubber spatula, carefully spread meringue into an 8-inch circle. The meringue will be quite tall at this point, so don't worry.


Bake meringue for 20 minutes at 325 and then lower the temperature to 275 and bake until just browned on the outside and slightly gooey inside, about 40 minutes more. The surface of the meringue may crank slightly while baking and that is fine. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. While cooling, the meringue will fall a bit and loose some of its height.



To assemble: Carefully run an offset spatula or flat spatula under the bottom of the meringue to loosen it and transfer it to a plate or cake stand. You may want someone to help you with this part as the meringue is delicate. Alternatively, if you are not feeling the need to impress your guests with your cake stand, just leave it on the parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat the heavy whipping cream to stiff peaks. Spoon cream onto meringue and spread with an offset spatula or spatula in an even layer. Generously place strawberries on top of cream, dust with powdered sugar for garnish (optional), cut into large pieces and serve immediately.


Note:  This dessert is best served and eaten at once. Though if you do have a piece or two leftover, fear not, it makes a delicious breakfast!
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