A lot of people ask me, “how do you do it?”, and I’m never sure how to respond. Do what? When? Probably the best answer is not very well, and with a lot of help.
No one can do it all, and my recipe testing has fallen far off to the wayside this past couple months, between the move and the new job. I’m finally feeling motivated to get back into it, because if I don’t have a plan in this heat my melty brain can’t come up with anything but carrot sticks by 5 o’clock, and don’t ask me to slice a stalk of celery, that would put me right over the edge. While I haul out my beloved notebook and pen to meal plan, we have treats! My indomitable Mom, never one to let her daughters go out uncovered, more than has me covered, as usual :)
I love the lightness of meringue nests, and what better way to showcase all the beautiful summer berries, not to mention my cute Dad happily showing off his taste testing skillz. Show Mom as much love as you show dessert :)
It all started with a question. Actually, it was more of a request which, I like to think, I could have said no to if I wanted to. Teaching Food and Nutrition at a small Christian High School, I was asked to have my 16 students help out with making desserts for an upcoming fundraising dinner…200 individual trifles, at least 4 different kinds. Now, there were a few valid reasons for hesitation. First, I am a bit of an over-organizer, so I had a set plan for what we would make each week of the semester before anyone entered the classroom. Second, I had already changed plans for the next week because we had been asked to make salads for the school BBQ…assorted salads for over 200 people please, a crowd made up mostly of bottomless teens. How flexible can you expect a control-freak to be? The next reason was the timing. The salads for the BBQ had to be prepped on a Monday and assembled or dressed on the Tuesday. The desserts had to be made on the Friday just before. Seemed a little overwhelming.
Okay, I admit I am not only a control-freak and an over-organizer, but I can also easily be overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between these three. Add to that ovens in the school kitchen which are never the right temperature, 2 little fridges, one always full of stuff no one knows the owner of, and my students gone on a field trip the whole day before the desserts had to be served, so everything had to be done the Friday of the dinner in a 1 hour and 15 minute class. Yes, I hesitated. And I went for a second opinion.
Okay, class, here’s another request. What do you think? “Bring it on!” “This is just like a Masterchef challenge!” “We can do this!” “Do we get to eat any?” How could I refuse? Plus, how could we not make extras so they could sample the fruits of their labours? Bring it on, indeed!
Now even enthusiasm does not make 200+ trifles in an hour and 15 minutes from scratch. We brainstormed what kinds we should make. “Chocolate, there has to be chocolate!” Okay, we adapted my Chocolate Ecstasy recipe…brownies, chocolate mousse, Skor bits and whipped cream. “I love cherry cheesecake. Can we make one that tastes like cherry cheesecake?” We took a no-bake cherry cheesecake recipe. We would make all the parts and layer them. “We should have one with fresh berries!” Fresh berries were pretty expensive at the time, but frozen fruit was on sale, so we compromised by making a mixed berry sauce, layered with angel cake and a vanilla pudding/whipped cream mix. Then came my suggestion. It was spring and I wanted something lemony. “Let’s make lemon meringue pie in a trifle!”
So this recipe was conceived that day in discussion with my students, who, by the way, did an amazing job on all the desserts!
Soon after, needing a dessert for Father’s Day that was both gluten and lactose free, this same dessert came to mind. Light, lemony, and now, since the fresh berries were all on sale, it could include delicious fresh fruit. Instead of making it in trifle form, which it easily could be adapted for, it starts with a meringue nest, gets generously filled with delicious lemon cream made from homemade lemon curd, and then topped off with the prettiest fresh berries you can find. The meringue nests can be made a day or two ahead, as can the lemon curd. All you need to do the day you need the dessert is to whip your cream and fold it together with your lemon curd.
Then you are ready for assembly:
Just remember to use lactose free whipping cream and vegan margarine if you need this recipe to be lactose free, and not even the pickiest lactose lover will be able to tell the difference :)
- MERINGUE NESTS:
- 3 large egg whites
- Pinch cream of tartar
- ¾ cup white sugar
- LEMON CURD:
- 4 large egg yolks
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- ⅓ cup cold butter, cubed (can substitute vegan margarine/butter)
- LEMON CREAM:
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 Tbsp confectioner's sugar (icing sugar)
- FOR NESTS:
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw 8 3-inch circles on parchment paper, spacing circles about an 1-2 inches apart to allow for expansion of meringue. Flip paper over so lines are underneath, but can be seen through as a guide.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beat egg whites on high speed until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then beat in sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, until it holds stiff, glossy peaks when you raise your beaters.
- Using piping bag fitted with star tip, pipe meringue into the prepared circles. Along edge of each circle, pipe second circle to make a raised edge for nest. (Alternatively, spoon meringue into rounds and form each round into nest with the back of the spoon.)
- Bake nests for 2 hours. Turn off oven and let stand in oven for 1 hour - do not open oven door! Remove from oven and transfer to a rack to cool. These can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days, or frozen pretty much indefinitely.
- FOR LEMON CURD:
- In heatproof bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Set bowl over saucepan of shallow simmering water. Do not have hot water reach the bottom of the bowl. Cook, whisking frequently, until thick enough to coat back of spoon, 8-10 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth. Strain curd through a fine sieve into a small glass dish. Cover with plastic wrap, laying wrap directly on surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Refrigerate until cooled and thick, about 2 hours. This can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- LEMON CREAM:
- On the day you are eating the dessert, whip heavy cream with 2 Tbsp of icing sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold together with cooled lemon curd until evenly mixed.
- TO ASSEMBLE: Fill nests with generous amount of lemon cream. Top with your favourite mixture of fresh berries. Serve immediately. Enjoy :)
Recipes for Lemon Curd and Meringue Nests adapted from Canadian Living.