Hye Thyme Cafe: Strawberry Vacherin

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Strawberry Vacherin

Strawberry Vacherin : Hye Thyme Cafe

Although I actually like the concept of this dessert and will definitely make it again ... for several reasons ... this turned out to be the bane of my existence leading up to Christmas this year. I apparently need to take a class on meringue! In my defense, I have never actually made meringues before. I've made one or two Lemon Meringue Pies and a bazillion Angel Lemon Pies where the meringue serves as the crust, but never meringue cookies, plain meringues, or even macaroons.

Over Thanksgiving, we had a young man from France join us for dinner, and since he was going to be around for Christmas, we invited him to join us again and asked what his family would traditionally have as a dessert on a holiday. He attempted to explain something his mother would make with "biscuits." I wasn't understanding what he was trying to describe, so I asked him to send me the recipe at some point if he thought of it. I was trying to imagine a dessert made with biscuit dough, so I was thinking maybe a Strawberry Shortcake with biscuits??? When I finally got the recipe, I read through it and promptly declared him uninvited him to Christmas dinner!!  😏

He hadn't actually asked me to make it for him - I just asked what he would typically have on a holiday, but of course he was going to be our guest, so I had to make the attempt to make him feel a little bit of home while he was with us. Silly me! It's not that the recipe sounded particularly difficult, just time consuming to make all of the meringues while I was managing my Christmas dinner and all of the other goodies coming later that evening. I figured since you can buy tins of almond meringue cookies, I could make the meringues the day before Christmas Eve and just store them until ready. I would make the base on Christmas Eve and refrigerate it until Christmas dinner was cleared away, then finish the recipe and assemble everything.  Sounded like a good plan to me.

8 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 c superfine sugar
1 1/2 c confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 225. Line baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 4T of the superfine sugar and continue beating for 2-3". Add the remaining superfine sugar and all of the confectioner's sugar and fold through, quickly and lightly with a metal spoon.

Place the meringue in a pastry bag with a plain nozzle and pipe finger-shaped lengths 1/2-3/4" higher than the mousse onto the baking sheets. Bake for 1', or until the meringues sound hollow when gently tapped. Turn off the oven. Loosen the meringues and leave in the oven for another 30", until dry.

That sounded easy enough, but I had a few problems. First of all, I couldn't find superfine sugar anywhere! Who knew?! In the spirit of improvisation, I ran some regular sugar through the coffee grinder. OK, one problem solved, next ... a "plain" nozzle, what's that? I assumed it was one of the tips with just a hole at the end, no shape, but what size? I decided to use the first tip I came across, which was actually one of the star tips. Who cares, as long as the length is correct? I piped my meringues and was very impressed with myself, look how pretty ...

I opted to use the waxed paper. I usually bake on parchment, but for some reason, I hesitated to use it for the meringues. Aren't they cute?  😊

An hour later, I opened the oven and was going to tap one on the bottom to see if it sounded hollow, but I couldn't get it off the paper! OK, I'll lift the paper and tap through it - nope! Even the waxed paper was fused to the tray! OK, don't panic, just turn the oven off and leave them alone until they dry out, then they'll pop right off, right? Um... no. Heavy sigh! I managed to salvage some of them, but a good many of them broke into pieces when I tried to release them. The sad part about that was that while I was piping, I realized I would have waaaaay more pieces than needed for this dessert, so I ground up some almonds with some almond extract, folded that into the rest of the meringue and piped spirals onto the tray. Those came off just fine and were very yummy by the way, but that didn't help with my "fingers." Also, they were tacky, so I was afraid to pile them in a tin like originally intended. As it was, I left them on a cooling rack and put them back in the oven since it has a very good seal on it.

Once everything settled down for the night on Christmas Eve, I set about making the base, the mousse portion of the recipe. A Charlotte Mold is called for, but since I don't have one, I looked through the cabinets and settled on a glass bowl that looked sort of like a pyramid with the top cropped off - seemed a stable choice for standing meringues around and then piling with strawberries. Ironically, it turned out to be the exact size to hold the amount of mousse the recipe made. You're also supposed to grease the pan (bowl) with grapeseed oil, but I don't happen to have any of that either. I used some other random oil I found in the pantry. Just make sure you don't use olive oil or peanut or something else with a strong flavor!

3 c strawberries
1 c sugar
2 T lemon juice
2 T unflavored gelatin
3/4 c hot water
1 1/4 c cream, whipped

Combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in food processor until smooth. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let dissolve, about 5". Stir the gelatin through the strawberry mixture and refrigerate until set, about 30". Lightly fold in the whipped cream and pour into the greased charlotte mold. Refrigerate until set.

I ran into an odd problem there. For some reason, the gelatin got lumpy rather than dissolving, so I figured I would throw it in the food processor with the strawberry mixture and pulse it to combine, but it still left lumps, so I pulled them out (assuming nobody would want to eat something that felt like rubber cement), and attempted lightly sprinkling more gelatin over the top and stirring it in. The problem was that I had no idea how much constituted what I had pulled out to know how much to sprinkle in. Thankfully, that turned out just fine. What wasn't so fine was when I checked on my meringues and realized they were getting softer - I now pretty much had a rack of dried out marshmallows.

I posted my dilemma on Facebook to see if anyone had some meringue advice. A few people suggested parchment, but when I had first released the meringues from the waxed paper, I tried putting them on parchment and they stuck to that to. Someone else said she always uses brown paper bags from the grocery store and has never had a problem. Great, I've got a few of those stashed away somewhere. On to round two.

Right about now, I'm thinking Merry Freakin Christmas!! I over-beat my second batch of meringue, so it was kinda soupy. About the only thing I had going for me at this point was that I still had to make an Angel Lemon Pie, and that requires more yolks than whites, so all of these extra yolks won't go to waste. Gotta find that silver lining anywhere you can! I piped a new batch, using a different tip, and hoped for the best.

Of course, they didn't want to come off the brown paper either! I salvaged what I could and said Que Sera Sera - Whatever Will Be Will Be - and called it a night! I still had presents to wrap.

After all of the Christmas Dinner dishes were cleared and we had some time to digest, I very nervously ran a small paring knife around the edges of my mousse and closed my eyes when I inverted it onto a platter, hoping for the best...YAY!!

OK, all I need now is to whip up some more cream and dig out two more cups of strawberries.

Slather whipped cream all around the mousse, then stand the meringues around it and pile the strawberries on top. At the last second, I saw some chocolate on the counter, so I grabbed a microplaner and shaved some over the whole thing.

I called our esteemed guest in from the living room telling him he better at least come and take a look at it before it collapsed or imploded or something. He said it was actually good, but his mom's meringues are a little different - NO KIDDING!!

So, will I make it again? You bet. I've got to figure out the meringue or it will make me crazy!

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