Meringue Hearts Recipe:
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (200 grams) superfine (caster) white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Strawberry Whipped Cream:
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) lightly sweetened strawberry puree (can use strawberry or raspberry jam)
Meringue Hearts: Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (130 degrees C) and place racks in upper and lower third of your oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 4 inch (10 cm) heart-shaped cookie cutter as your guide, draw 6 hearts (12 total) on each piece of parchment paper.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds stiff peaks. (The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.) Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain tip.
Place a small spot of meringue at each corner of the pan to attach the parchment paper to the baking sheets. Pipe the meringue within the perimeters of the 12 heart shapes you have drawn on the parchment paper. Smooth with an offset spatula.
Bake in preheated oven for about 60 to 70 minutes, alternating the baking sheets, top to bottom and front to back, about halfway through baking. (The time does depend on how humid or dry a day it is.) The meringues are done when they release easily from the parchment paper. When the meringues are baked, turn off the oven, open the oven door slightly, and leave the meringues in the turned off oven for about another half hour.
For the strawberry whipped cream: In a large mixing bowl combine the whipping cream, vanilla extract, and sugar. Cover and chill the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When chilled, beat the mixture until soft peaks form. Then add the sweetened strawberry puree, a little at a time, beating just until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised. Taste and fold in more sugar or puree, if needed.
To assemble dessert: With a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe, or else spoon the whipped cream on top of the meringues and serve with berries and extra strawberry puree, if desired.
Note: In the above picture, I have used two meringues and sandwiched them together with the cream.
Store leftover meringues in a cool dry airtight container up to one week.
Makes 12 4-inch (10 cm) meringue hearts.
Meringue Hearts satisfy our craving for something sweet, yet they are so wonderfully light and delicate. This Valentine's Day dessert takes individual heart-shaped meringues and tops them with a layer of strawberry whipped cream and fresh raspberries. For an extra special presentation, I like to scatter a few raspberries around the meringues and then make everything snowy white with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Meringues are simply a mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar. There are two types of meringue; soft and hard and the difference between the two is the amount of sugar added to the egg whites. Soft meringues are what we use as a topping for pies (like Lemon Meringue) and are made with a small amount of sugar. For the meringues featured in this recipe, however, we need a hard meringue which has a larger proportion of sugar to egg whites (1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar for every large egg white). The wonderful thing about this type of meringue is that it can be piped into so many different sizes and shapes. The important thing is to bake them in a slow oven so you end up with a crisp, crumbly, and delicate meringue. Once baked, hard meringues can be filled with whipped cream, as we have done here, or they are lovely when filled with custard, lemon curd, ice creams or sorbets, and fresh fruit.
When making a meringue you want to ensure that the egg whites reach maximum volume so have your mixing bowl and beaters clean and free of grease. It is easier to separate your eggs while they are cold and once separated, cover the egg whites and let them come to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Cover and refrigerate the egg yolks for another use. Cream of tartar is a tartaric acid and is a fine white crystalline salt which is a by-product of the wine-making industry It is used in the whipping of egg whites to stabilize them and allows them to reach maximum volume. I find that superfine (caster) sugar always makes the best meringues as it dissolves easier in the whites and you can make your own by taking 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar and processing it in your food processor until very fine. It is important when making meringues to add the sugar gradually to the egg whites so that the sugar completely dissolves and does not produce a gritty meringue. To test to see if the sugar has completely dissolved, rub a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger. If it does not feel gritty it's fine but if it does feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.
Meringues are always baked in a slow oven to allow the slow evaporation of the moisture out of the meringues. If the oven temperature is too high, the outside of the meringue will dry and set too quickly. So instead of a dry, crisp and crunchy meringue you will end up with the inside of the meringue being chewy and sticky. Also, try to make meringues on a dry day because on a rainy or humid day you will probably need to bake the meringues longer. Meringues can be made several days in advance of servings. However, in order to keep the meringues crisp do not assemble this dessert until shortly before serving.