Think Spring – Strawberry Pavlovas with Vanilla Bean Cream

Okay, I know in Israel we are a little ahead in our growing season than the US, so this recipe might not be as useful for my Israeli compatriots as the strawberry season is almost over, but it is just starting in the US.  On Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) we finally went strawberry picking. Well I went strawberry picking with the Little Rocker and Squeaker and with my friend E and her daughter S. I heard of this strawberry field that was only about 20 minutes away and they didn’t charge for picking, just for the actual strawberries themselves.

I was a little worried about going anywhere on Yom Haatzmaut because the whole country is out and in all the parks and recreation areas. I was warned by native Israelis to not try to go any more than 10 minutes from my house because otherwise the amount of traffic would just make the whole trip not worth it.  I was also warned that if I wanted to barbecue in a park (the official Independence Day pastime), then I should stake out a spot and picnic table the night before and have someone stay in the park the whole night. Soooo, that was out.

The barbeque process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The barbecue process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera. Look at that wind!

We had already planned to get together with E and A on Yom Haatzmaut and I was just looking for something to do during the day before the barbecue.  So I decided on strawberry picking before the season ended.

The meat.
The meat.

On the morning of the big day, all we saw were grey clouds and I was a little apprehensive. It was also really windy. I had heard that the rain was supposed to be spotty so we set out anyway in the hopes that it would be nice and sunny when we got there.  As we drove to the field (and with a few wrong turns 😉 ) the sun came out and the weather turned lovely.  Bright and sunny, but a cool breeze too. We got to the field and picked the freshest strawberries I have had in this country. The Little Rocker did all the bending down for me which was awesome as I had Squeaker in a backpack on me. And we ended up with some really bright and sweet strawberries.

Kite Flying
Taking advantage of the windy day and the open soccer field.

We got home and continued with our plans and had an amazing barbecue with great fresh fruit for dessert. But afterwards we still had all those strawberries.  I made a strawberry pie with some of them, and it was great.  But then I made these strawberry pavlovas and they were the bomb-dizzle.

Adding strawberry sauce.
Adding strawberry sauce.

I had a ton of egg whites saved up in the freezer from some time when I made lemon curd or something. I didn’t want to make more meringues, because they always took so long and then I always ate them because Rocker Dude doesn’t like them.  So here is something to do with all those extra egg whites.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I ended up making individual pavlovas as opposed to one big one, because if I have a choice, I prefer to make individual desserts as opposed to family style, and this is one chance to do that without shaping individual pie crusts.

I wanted to really have the strawberry flavor pop, so I also made a strawberry sauce to be drizzled over the cream. The Little Rocker was really excited to try these and though she usually does not like the desserts I make (no taste that one, I don’t know what to do with her) she loved this one.

Strawberry Pavlovas
Strawberry Pavlovas

We had a bunch of people for dinner and these came out wonderfully, though in the future I might make the pavlovas themselves a little smaller as some felt that there was too much sweet on the plate.

This is a wonderful dessert for warm spring or summer days as it is sweet and refreshing.

Recipe (serves 12):
Pavlovas (from the Pastry Studio):

6 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp.  cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium-low speed.  When they are foamy, add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until egg whites are opaque.  Slowly dd the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff and shiny.

Drop the meringue by spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, using about 1/3 cup per pavlova. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon, leaving an indentation for the filling. Bake for about 1 1/2 -2 hours or until the meringues are dry and can be released easily from the baking paper.  Remember to rotate the baking sheets halfway and if you have them on two racks then to switch the pans as well. When they are done, turn off the oven and let the meringues dry out for another 30 minutes in the oven.  After 30 minutes, place the meringues on a wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Bean Cream:

250 ml whipping cream
2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a clean mixing bowl, begin whipping the cream. As the cream thickens, add the sugar and the vanilla. Continue beating until stiff. Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Strawberry Sauce:

15 strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tbsp.-1/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the strawberries are

In a food processor or blender, combine the strawberries with the sugar until you have a uniform sauce.

Washed, hulled and sliced strawberries for garnish.

Assembly:

On each plate, place a meringue.  Add a generous spoonful of cream on top, followed by some sliced strawberries.  Then drizzle some strawberry sauce over the whole thing. Serve immediately.

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Lemon Meringue Hamantashen

It is Purim!  My favorite time of the year.  Now, it may have something to do with the fact that my birthday is always around Purim, but I think it is similar to how people think about Christmas.  Everyone is happier around Christmas time, and it makes for a general cheer all around. In fact that is what many American ex-pats miss when they move out.  Here in Israel, now is the general happy time.  Everything is silly and people really try to step outside their comfort zone in order to get into the holiday spirit.  Everyday for the past couple of weeks, the Little Rocker has come home from kindergarten dressed as something else.  One day it was a ladybug, another day, masks they drew themselves, on other days her face was painted with various animals.  It’s really a fun time. I love seeing people dressed up, though I am not such a fan of dressing up myself.

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.
Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.

So I am finally getting around to making something that I have been thinking about for over a year.  Lemon-meringue hamantashen.  Hamantashen are my favorite holiday-related food – even more than honey cake for Rosh Hashana and matza brei for Pesach. In Israel hamantashen season starts right after Chanuka, so already in December, the stores started stocking freshly made hamantashen.  The one issue I have with it is that in Israel, they are not so creative with the fillings.  They always have the traditional poppy seed filled ones (eew), date filled ones (quite good), walnut filled ones (eh), and chocolate filled ones (eh). None of the usual strawberry, apricot or other fruit filled ones.  This actually led to a long discussion at work between the Americans and the Israelis.  All the Americans were deploring the lack of fruity hamantashen that we are used to, while all the Israelis were shocked that anyone would put jelly in a hamantashen. Just another culture clash that may never be resolved.

The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The fillings they chose.  The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.
The fillings they chose. The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.

So every year I make the usual hamantashen, strawberry, blueberry, apple, etc. and last year, I though about trying something new – lemon-meringue. Last year I started planning it, and it was going to be really awesome as Purim fell out on my birthday, but then Rocker Dude had to leave me on my birthday and go do his army reserve service.  Apparently the army doesn’t accept “Sorry, it’s my wife’s birthday” as an excuse. So as I was alone with the Little Rocker and not in the mood to put effort into anything (my usual hubby-in-the-army situation), so I shelved the idea.

This year, I am on maternity leave, so I have tons of time (sort-of) and free hands (mostly) so this is the year that we make lemon-meringue hamantashen.

I usually use my sugar cookie recipe for the base of the dough, but I feel like the end product always comes out a bit too sweet. In Israel, the cookie recipe is less sweet and I think complements the filling more. So I looked around on Israeli sites to see what people were using.  To give you an idea of what the difference is between the recipes, my sugar cookie recipe calls for two cups of sugar to three cups of flour.  The one I ended up using from Aviva Pibko (a contestant on Master Chef here) has one and a quarter cups of sugar to four cups of flour.

Ready circles of dough
Ready circles of dough
Filled circles.
Filled circles.
Ready to bake hamantashen.
Ready to bake hamantashen.

I made a lemon curd as the filling and with the leftover egg whites, made  a meringue that I toasted in the oven. The end result is a tart cookie with a pillow of sweetness on top.

Hamantashen just after toasting.
Hamantashen just after toasting.

Of course Rocker Dude tasted the cookie and said, “What’s that in the dough?” When I said “Lemon,” I got a sour face in response. Now he will deny that he said that, but we all know that he wanted regular sugar dough instead ;).

Don't you want to try a bite?
Don’t you want to try a bite?

If you are looking for some more interesting hamantashen ideas, check out this link.

Here is the recipe for the hamantashen.

P.S. I also used regular raspberry preserves as a filling and they came out great. There was a nice contrast between the lemon in the dough and the sweet jam.

Recipe:
Dough (based on this recipe from Aviva Pibko):

250 g butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture for a full minute between each egg. Add the vanilla and the zest. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add them to the wet ingredients, mixing only until the dough is combined.  Put the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Filling (from The Art and Soul of Baking):

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tbsp. cold butter or margarine

Meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Prepare a double boiler, or a pot with a heat-safe bowl on top.  In the bowl (off the heat), mix the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Place the bowl over the boiling pot and heat the lemon mixture.  Make sure to keep whisking the mixture, and scrape the sides of the bowl to keep the mixture from curdling.  After about 7 minutes, the curd should thicken (it will hit 180 degrees).  Pour the curd through a strainer.  Then add the butter or margarine, making sure that it is completely melted.  Press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of the curd and refrigerate the curd until it is needed.

To assemble the hamantashen: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness.  Use a round cookie cutter (four-inch diameter) to make circles.  Place a scant teaspoonful of the curd in the center of each circle and pinch the ends together to form a triangle.

Place the finished cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.  If you notice that the triangles are opening while baking, refrigerate the formed hamantashen for 20 minutes before putting them in the oven.

While the cookies are cooling, beat the egg whites on high speed while slowly adding in the sugar.  Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Place a heaping teaspoonful on the center of each hamantashen and either toast the meringue with a butane torch or set the oven to broil and toast the cookies for a minute in the oven. Watch them carefully because they burn quickly.

The cookies will keep (without the meringue) for 4 days in a sealed container.  Once you add the meringue, eat the cookies within the day.