By JAN MAIN
Ontario strawberries are here! They should be in their prime for July 1 Canada Day festivities: sweet, succulent, juicy and ever so fragrant.
A simple wash and they are ready to be devoured in hand or fancied up for pies, ice-cream and dessert creations, such as the old- fashioned strawberry shortcake or the famous pavlova, a meringue basket filled with freshly whipped cream and Ontario strawberries.
These local strawberries are truly a heavenly creation worthy of celebration!
Here are some tips for Strawberry Success:
• They are fragile: If possible, pick or purchase your strawberries the day you want to use them. Strawberries are fragile and need to be enjoyed as close to the day of picking as possible.
• Storage: If necessary to store strawberries, place them on a paper towel lined baking sheet and store in single layer loosely covered in the refrigerator.
• How to prepare: Wash berries in cool water gently just before using. If you must store them in the refrigerator for up to two days, store as directed above unwashed. They will keep better this way.
• How to freeze: Strawberries freeze well if you are fortunate enough to have a quantity. Here’s how to do it. Wash gently and pat dry. Freeze In single layer on parchment paper lined baking sheet in coldest part of freezer. Once frozen, remove to freezer bags or freezer containers and freeze in usable quantities, 4-6 cups (1 L) for up to one year.
• What is meringue: Meringue is beaten egg white with cream of tartar or salt added to stabilize the white and make it hold the sugar. Once peaks are formed by beating the whites, granulated sugar is beaten in (usually with an electric mixer or whisk) gradually (tablespoon by tablespoon) until stiff peaks occur.
• How to separate eggs: Even a speck of yolk in the white will prevent the egg white from beating up to maximum volume.
To ensure yolk-free whites, use three bowls when separating eggs: One to separate eggs, one to transfer uncontaminated whites to a bowl ready for the meringue and one for the yolks. (Yolks can be saved for making scrambled eggs, omelets, quiches and ice-cream.
• How do you know if you have your meringue mixture has reached the right “stiffness”: Turn the bowl upside- down and the beaten egg white – sugar mixture stays inside.
Now this stiff meringue is ready to shape into small cookies, individual meringue bowls or a large meringue bowl called a pavlova. Once shaped, bake.
Follow the instructions below and you will have a dessert worthy of a Happy Canada Day!
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp (1 mL) cream of tartar or salt
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla whipped cream filling (Also called Chantilly Cream)
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
1/4 cup (50 mL) sifted icing sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
2-3 cups (500 mL) fresh strawberries, gently washed and patted dry
Sprigs of mint for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 300 F (150 C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl using electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form; gradually, tablespoon by tablespoon beat in sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla.
Bowl can be turned upside down and egg whites stay intact.
Dessert Meringues: Spoon ¼ cup (5 mL) meringue on baking sheet and with back of spoon make an indentation in the middle. Repeat making meringues spacing them 2 inches (10 mL) apart. Makes 8.
One large Meringue Bowl (this is called Pavlova). Draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper and spoon all meringue onto circle spreading evenly then raising edges about 2 inches (10 cm) to form a bowl.
Bake meringue in oven at 300 F (150 C). For dessert meringues cook for 30-35 minutes. For the large Meringue Bowl cook about 35-40 minutes or until pale golden brown.
Turn oven off and leave to cool overnight.
The next day fill dessert meringues with a generous spoonful of whipped cream topped with fresh sliced strawberries.
Whipped cream for the Meringue Bowl: Whip 2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream until stiff peaks (you can use the upside- down bowl trick again); fold in ¼ cup (50 mL) sifted icing sugar and top with sliced fresh berries (about 1 pt- 2cups/500 mL)
Dessert may be assembled an hour before serving.
Slide carefully onto large serving plates. Serves 8.