Friday, June 13, 2008

Strawberries in Black Pepper Meringue

It’s strawberry time! Strawberries are aplenty right now. Lucky for us, what lies ahead is a long and playful season of shortcakes and pies and coolers and compotes. In addition to these traditional treats, I thought I would try something a little bit off the beaten track.

Meringues are so simple and airy and light. Add a little black pepper and they become these intriguing sweet-spicy-warm crunchy cases for a handful of strawberries that have been tossed with a bit of sugar and Grand Marnier. Biting into one of these fills your mouth with a lot of different sensations – crunchy sweet blasting into a million shards, fresh luscious strawberries with a bright citrus acidity and warm sweet spice finishing with a bit of heat. Hard to put your finger on it, so it requires another bite. And then another. And you keep going until you figure it out.

This dessert is an unusual and fun combination that also provides a great ending to a light summer meal. Yes, it's just about summertime. Where the living is easy.

Bench notes:
- For the meringue, use freshly ground pepper. If you have very pungent peppercorns, use a heaping 1/4 teaspoon. If you like the fiery taste of spice and heat, add a smidgen more.
- If you enjoy using a pastry bag, it’s fun to create lovely shapes with your favorite tip. If not, simply plop the meringue with a spoon or use a small offset spatula to spread it out into whatever shape you desire. Just make sure that the bottom isn’t too thick so it dries out properly.
- Once they were baked, I shut my gas oven off and left them in the oven overnight. For longer term, store them in an airtight container to avoid any humidity. If you stack them, separate them with parchment paper.
- Play with the strawberries according to your own taste. I added sugar, Grand Marnier and orange zest, but if you have a better idea about what would go well with black pepper, go for it and let me know! Lavender sugar might work or a splash of quality balsamic.
- Garnish with a bit of sweetened whipped cream if you like, flavored with orange liqueur, an herbed simple syrup or a pinch of caramel.

Strawberries in Black Pepper Meringue
Makes 10-12

4 egg whites @ room temperature
pinch salt
1/4 t cream of tartar
3/4 C sugar
1/4 – 1/2 t black pepper, to taste

2 lbs strawberries
sugar, to taste
Grand Marnier, to taste (optional)
Zest of half an orange

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Trace circle, rectangle or square shapes of whatever size you wish on a piece of parchment paper using a dark pencil. Place parchment pencil side down on a baking sheet.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium low speed. Add cream of tartar when they are foamy. Increase speed to medium and continue whipping until they are opaque and form a very soft peak. Increase speed to medium high and slowly drizzle sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time. Continue whipping until meringue forms stiff shiny peaks that hold their shape.

Drop meringue by spoonfuls or pipe onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for about 2 hours or until meringue easily releases from the parchment and feels dry to the touch. Turn off the oven, leaving the oven door closed, and continue to let meringue dry.

Hull and slice the strawberries. Add sugar to taste and a shake of Grand Marnier. Add the orange zest and let the berries sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to bloom and the berries to macerate just a bit.

Arrange berries in your meringue vessels and serve immediately.


Cannelle Et Vanille said...

i have blogged about my love with strawberries and pepper before... these look amazing... and the colors... wow, just perfect!

Victoria said...

These look beautiful - and delicious. There's a farm stand near where I spend my weekends that grows lovely little - and very tasty - strawberries. I will try these as soon as the first quart appears.

Anonymous said...

So simple and absolutely delicious! I love this idea!

My Sweet & Saucy said...

What gorgeous photos! This looks just wonderful!

Anonymous said...

my love of strawberries is boundless. i like to toss them with balsamic and eat them over black pepper biscuits with piles and piles of fresh whipped cream. i dig the pepper in the meringue, too - nice!

Helene said...

One of my very first "favorite" desserts was cracked black pepper meringue and fresh strawberries. I was young but it really opened my palate to all the dimensions desserts can have. I love your take on ot. You keep making my favorites!