First things first. Lila wanted to know: “When is Danny’s birthday?”
“February 10,” I told her.
“Wait, it’s not on Valentine’s Day? I thought that’s why his last name was Valentine.”
Cute. The peculiar and amusing thing about this recent conversation is Danny’s father’s birthday actually is on Valentine’s Day. More than anything else, for Danny, Feb. 14 has meant birthdays.
For us, V-Day kind of depends how we’re feeling about it that year. Maybe we’ll go out to dinner and make a weekend out of it. Or maybe we’ll stay in and it’s like any other day.
But this year, to borrow a term from Leslie Knope, I’m planning on a sort of Galentine’s Day. Except Danny’s invited.
My sisters will be visiting us that weekend. We plan to continue our tradition of ending one night at Bern’s Dessert Room. I’d also like to bake something sweet and maybe heart-shaped. Something pretty.
Like this meringue from one of my favorite new-to-me cookbooks, Nigel Slater’s “Ripe.”
Part of the fun of this recipe is watching a few simple ingredients transform. Viscous egg whites are whipped into a froth that resembles fine bubble baths. See? Romantic. Delicious? Not yet. We need an avalanche of warm sugar. Beat with the egg whites until the whole thing thickens into a glossy, smooth texture akin to marshmallow fluff. Go ahead and dip your finger for a taste. You have to see if you need more rosewater anyway.
Take this fluff and form clouds on a baking sheet or two. This was my first time making meringues so I went a little grand — just three big puffs. Each one big enough to share. One turned out slightly shaped like a heart. Feel free to makes several small meringues instead, probably up to eight, and with as much space between them as you’d allow for cookies to spread out.
Once the meringue is done it looks absolutely wondrous. That smooth layer becomes a pearlescent, ivory shell. And then, yes, you get to crack it. I know you wanted to. Inside, the meringue has a fudgy texture. Whip some cream real quick and spoon it generously over the crackled top. Drizzle it with berries and their purple syrup.
Something sweet for your sweet whether this year’s valentine is your boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, or dad. Lucky me, I have three. Love you, Melly, Lila, and Danny.
a rosewater meringue with blackberries and cream
Perfect meringue can be one of those desserts that eludes bakers. I like this recipe because you’ll get it right on the first try. Part of that probably has to do with warming the sugar and beating the egg whites for a good while to give the mixture enough shape to hold up in the oven. Superfine sugar is used here because it dissolves more quickly. If you can’t find it, you can make your own in a food processor. As for the rosewater, it adds a lovely flavor and aroma but you can certainly make this meringue without it if you can’t get your hands on this ingredient. The original recipe calls for black currants but I used blackberries instead. Any tart berry would be lovely. This recipe is from “Ripe” by Nigel Slater.
for the meringues:
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar superfine or caster sugar
5 egg whites
a few drops of rosewater
for the blackberry sauce:
10 ounces blackberries
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
Heat the oven to 350°F. To make the meringue, scatter the sugar over a baking sheet and place in the oven until it is warm, 6 to 10 minutes. Check on it about halfway, stirring, and making sure the edges aren’t starting to caramelize. Whip the egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment until firm and fluffy, then fold in the warm sugar and rosewater. Keep beating mixture for about 5 minutes. The meringue will transform from a frothy mixture into a shiny and thick consistency. Taste and add a few more drops of rosewater if the flavor is too faint.
Place large spoonfuls of mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave some room, a couple inches or so, between them for the meringues to puff up and spread out. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 250°F. Bake for about an hour. The meringues should be crisp on top and achieve a pale honey color. Turn down the heat if the meringues are browning too quickly. Let cool.
Place the blackberries in a pot with sugar and water; bring to a boil. Remove from heat as some of the berries start to release their juices, forming a deep purple syrup. It won’t take long. Remove from heat and let cool.
Whip the cream until it just forms soft peaks. I do this with a stand mixer, starting at about medium-low speed and gradually increasing the speed. Press the back of a spoon in to the center of each meringue to crack the top. Spoon the whipped cream into the center. Top with blackberries and syrup. Serve.
Serves 8 to 10.