We’ve stuffed our freezers (and at times, our stomachs) with strawberries, until they can hold no more. We’ve made gallons of jam, bagged and frozen sliced berries in 1/2-cup increments for breakfast smoothies over the Winter, and made several shortcakes. We knew, however, that the best salute to the end of strawberry season had to be these wonderful meringues.
A good meringue is the perfect platform for sugared strawberries and a healthy dollop of ice cream or gelato, whipped cream or other cool dairy treat. Meringues are sweet, crisp and airy, yet resist crumbling when drenched with copious amounts of ripe strawberry juice (an unfortunate problem for every shortbread we know). On a recent trip back to Madisonville, Michelle made these for her family using home-made vanilla ice cream and some of Western Kentucky’s last strawberries. As Michelle’s dad, Tom, said: “If there’s a better dessert than this, I don’t know what it is.”
(adapted from Lee Bailey’s The Way I Cook) (makes 4)
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. finely chopped nuts (we’ve used both pecans and almonds with great success)
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Oil a cookie sheet with unflavored oil, or use a Silpat.
Beat eggs in a standing mixer until frothy, then add salt. Continue beating until soft peaks form. Then add sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, beating about 30 seconds between additions. Add vanilla. Continue beating for a couple of minutes, until very stiff. Fold in nuts with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Spoon meringue mixture, in fourths, onto baking sheet. Press the spoon in the middle of each to make a depression for holding ice cream.
Bake for 1 hour, then turn off oven and let sit inside it for 30 minutes. This is where the original recipe says it’s done. Our experience—possibly because our current batch of chickens lay really watery eggs or possibly because of Kentucky’s humid June—is that the meringues are still somewhat leathery at this point. If so, turn the oven back on to 225 degrees, cook for an hour more, then turn off the oven again and let meringues sit for another 30 minutes inside it.
Fill cooled meringues with vanilla ice cream or gelato, topped with sliced strawberries and the juice that is formed after sprinkling sugar over.