Lemon-Lavender Meringue Tarts (The difference between French, Swiss and Italian Meringues)

lemon meringue

These may seem a little upside down, we usually think of the meringue piled high above the lemon filling, not the other way around. This is a simpler twist on the classic, but all the same tangy-sweet allure. The best part is there is no crust to deal with, which makes them lighter and faster to make. The meringue shell is whipped until it is as light as air, spooned into little clouds and baked just until they are set, but still slightly soft in the middle. Once cooled they’re topped with lavender scented lemon curd. The tartness of the curd is always a perfect match for the sweet meringue, and a bit of lavender creates a gentle floral touch, without going overboard. It tastes like spring, which I am desperately in need of on this April day, when we’re anticipating a snow storm.

A brief meringue primer…because so many desserts call for them and it can be just a touch confusing which type to use. There are three different types of meringue, with three distinct characteristics and three countries laying claim to them:meringue tarts 01

1. The simplest is the French meringue, which is just egg whites with sugar sprinkled over them as you whip them to peaks. If consuming raw egg whites makes you nervous, the French meringue needs to be baked to make the egg whites perfectly safe and keeps them from deflating. There are also pasteurized eggs whites on the market that eliminate any fear, but I find they don’t whip up quite as well. It is the least stable and most likely to be over whipped, but the fastest and easiest to prepare of the three types. It helps to create a lofty, shiny French meringue by starting with room temperature egg whites.

2. The Swiss meringue is made by heating the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler until all the sugar melts. This process cooks the eggs enough to make them edible without having to bake them and gives the meringue great strength. It CAN be baked (its what I used for these tartlettes) or used to make buttercream, mousse or toasted meringue topping.

3. An Italian meringue is the most stable of the three types, but also requires the most effort to create. A sugar syrup is heated to about 242°F on a candy thermometer and then very carefully poured over whipping egg whites. This creates a very stable meringue, which will hold up in a buttercream, toppings for pies and folded into mousses or Baked Alaska.

You could make these tart shells using any of the three techniques, and it may be interesting to try them each way. For this particular go of it, I chose a Swiss meringue and here’s how… (more…)

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Passion Fruit Baked Alaska (Best Creamsicle Ever!)

ice cream

Passion Fruit tastes like a combination of lemon, peach, pineapple and kiwi. It can be quite sour on its own, but adding it to a sweet and creamy ice cream is like biting into an exotic creamsicle, only way better. The tart ice cream matches beautifully with meringue and makes a simple dessert look fancy and festive.

If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh passion fruit, by all means use it, pulp and all. You may have best luck finding it in Asian or Latin American markets. But, I made due with juice concentrate and it worked great. You can find pure passion fruit juice at some co-op freezers or from Perfect Puree on the web. The shipping is expensive, because they pack it in dry ice and ship it overnight, but for a worthy occasion you may want to splurge.  (more…)

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Mother’s Day Meringues (light and simple summer desserts)

On mother’s day, I personally think there should be over-the-top displays of appreciation and beauty. This will come in the form of children helping their mom plant flowers in the garden, cleaning the garage, a foot massage, a favorite meal (basically anything cooked by someone else) and, of course, a gorgeous dessert. After eating the before mentioned  favorite meal, she may long for something light and ethereal. Meringues. This is one easy recipe, served three different ways. It can be made by children of all ages, maybe with a little help from dad. By adding flavors to the meringue, you can personalize the dessert. (more…)

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S’mores – rainy days can bring sweet inspiration!

"S'mores"

Sometimes great ideas can come from the strangest places. Who would have imagined that spending my birthday, in the rain, making S’mores with people I didn’t know, could have been so much fun and such creative inspiration. In November my good friend, and partner in many culinary adventures, Jen, treated me to a luxurious night at a resort. As bad luck would have it, it was pissing rain all night, which may have stopped the average souls from sharing a bottle of wine by the beach. Jen and I bundled up, grabbed blankets, umbrellas and sat in the rain by the fire. Apparently this scene was odd enough to attract the attention of a lovely, adventure seeking couple (Sue and Anton), who pulled up a soaking wet bench and joined us. The only thing missing in this rather bizzarre setting were sticks with marshmallows. Not for long! Sue disappeared and came back with a “S’more kit.” It seemed perfectly right at the moment to be drinking a lovely bottle of red wine and singeing marshmallows in the fire, while balancing an umbrella. They were perfection, albeit too sweet and not as good as I remember them from childhood. The concept of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers and toasted puffs of whipped sugar is brilliant, but once you hit 40, one’s taste-buds crave a little more complexity and less unadorned SWEET.

This moment deserved remembering and the S’more begged to be reinvented. This small bite of homemade cinnamon graham cookies, chocolate ganache and toasted almond meringue is my take on the classic. But, I added a hidden treasure. Under the cloud of meringue lies coconut and a candied pecan. The texture and richness of the nut are just what the S’more was always missing for me. I suggest you bring them to a superbowl party, but leave a few at home to snack on later. (more…)

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Lemon Meringue Mother’s Day Cake – (how-to video: piping meringue roses)

These meringue roses remind me of fine porcelaine china, dainty and ultra feminine. Perfect on an occasion that requires something spectacular, even a bit over-the-top. Mother’s Day is one such time. It is the day when we give thanks to the women who have raised us. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of extraordinary women, who have influenced how I walk through this world. They have shown me great generosity, shared their wisdom and have loved me unconditionally. I only hope to possess these same qualities as I now raise my own children. I wanted to create something as unique and beautiful as these women, to reflect my deep appreciation.

Due to too many miles I can’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but if I were, this is the cake I would present to her. She would love the tart layers of lemon sponge cake and lemon curd, balanced with the sweet meringue icing; to toast or not to toast is the question?

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Lemon Brown-Sugar Meringue Tart

This tart is the cousin of the Lemon Meringue Pie, an all American classic. The lemon is intense, smooth and bracing, which is the perfect contrast to the pillowy brown sugar meringue that floats on top. They sit on an almond pastry crust that is tender and not overly sweet. The filling is simply made with just lemon juice, egg yolks and sugar, no need for cornstarch or sweetened condensed milk. The brown sugar in the meringue gives it more personality and a deeper flavor, which goes so well with the sourness of the lemons.

A lemon tart is a bit untraditional for the holidays, but I find it a wonderful addition to a Christmas buffet. It looks festive and is a nice contrast to the Bûche de Noël, a Christmas Stollen, Panettone and all those cookies you have been baking. (more…)

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