Strawberry-almond dacquoise

Andreae Prozesky guides you through some summertime cake-makery.

Sometimes the stars align beautifully.

It’s finally the beginning of berry season here on the Avalon. If the strawberry u-picks are open, then the annual raspberry foraging and blueberry onslaught cannot be far behind. So when my Scopely colleagues suggest that I write something about berries, I happily agreed.

Then, days later, I received a dinner invitation.

When I asked what I could bring along, it was suggested a dessert would be lovely. A strawberry dessert, perhaps? Hmmm. When a ride to Lester’s farm was offered, the deal was sealed.

Strawberry something. Yes.

As the stars would have it, my refrigerator was also housing some leftover egg whites from a recipe a few days earlier, and so a vision began to emerge.

Meringue something? Yes and yes.

This is how it often begins with me. An ingredient will present itself, and I will spend some time musing over its possible culinary applications. Flavours start to pair up in my head.

I’ve spent enough time cooking and reading about cooking and enjoying other people’s cooking to have developed a sense of which tastes and textures go together nicely and which ones fight. Strawberries, for example, go very well with citrus fruits. Citrus fruits go very well with nuts. Nuts go very well with berries. And so on. This is how I arrive at the framework for a recipe.

What I had in mind was a cake called a dacquoise, which is fancy-talk for “crisp meringue discs with some kind of creamy filling, all stacked atop one another for maximum ooooh-factor.” The meringue is meant to be crispy, like the sort of meringue you would get in a French pastry shop, not like the fluffy sort that tops a lemon meringue pie (although I love squishy, pie-crowning meringue with a passion that knows no bounds, don’t get me wrong). Dacquoises are often made with layers of chocolate meringue and a ganache or buttercream filling, but that seemed a little heavy-handed for a summer’s day. A plain nut meringue seemed like a better plan, and maybe a cloud-like white-chocolate mousse filling, with strawberries chucked in all over the place… yes, this was sounding more like it.

Making meringues isn’t at all difficult, in theory. There are hardly any ingredients. You need egg whites, sugar, some ground nuts, and a bit of cream of tartar to help stabilize the whole thing. No big deal.

The only possible screw-up factor is… wait for it… humidity.

Humidity, of course, being the single defining characteristic of the St. John’s summer.

I know for sure that if I were guiding someone through summertime cake-makery, I would advise against any attempt at crispy meringue. However, I am not so good at taking my own advice. To be fair, I made my meringues on a perfectly clear evening with no discernible mugginess. And, indeed, they turned out nicely crisp. I let them cool and stacked them with waxed paper and locked them in an airtight container and put them in the nice, dry fridge, where they remained perfectly crispy for some hours.

Until, of course, the time came to assemble my highly-anticipated dacquoise.

The moment I opened the container, my meringues started to go limp. Malleable. Sticky. Any hope of crispiness was lost. But what odds? They were delicious! I forged ahead, layering my now toffee-like meringues with the white-chocolate mousse and the strawberries.

And the result was magical.

The strawberry juice leaked a little, and the mousse did attempt to escape its fate, but the combination was heavenly. The meringue melted into the mousse here and there, adding a gorgeous dimension of chewy nuttiness.

One thing I’ve learned in the kitchen is that things may not always turn out the way you’ve planned, but they often turn out just as good, and perhaps even better.

All hail the squishy meringue!

Strawberry-almond dacquoise

NOTE: This is a make-ahead kind of dessert. The meringues can be done the evening before serving and stowed somewhere airtight and cool, and the mousse needs to sit overnight in the fridge. The strawberries should be left to macerate a half-hour or so.

Meringue discs:
4 egg whites
2/3 ground almonds
¾ cup sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Mousse:
4 ounces white chocolate
1 ¾ cups whipping cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons citrus liqueur (I had Triple Sec in the cupboard, so I used that)

Berries:
about 2 cups sliced fresh strawberries, drizzled with 1 tablespoon citrus liqueur (see above), and left to sit about 30 minutes

To make meringues:
Preheat oven to 350F. On parchment paper-lined baking trays, trace three 8-inch circles. Combine ground almonds and ¼ cup sugar. Set aside. Beat together egg whites, cream of tartar, and remaining sugar until glossy and fairly stiff. Fold in ground nuts, being careful not to deflate meringue. Spread meringue on baking trays to fill in circles. Reduce oven temperature to 250F and bake until meringues are no longer sticky, about an hour. They will be slightly golden. Cool and store, between layers of parchment, in an airtight container in the fridge.

To make mousse:
In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt 3 ounces of white chocolate, being careful not to scorch it. Set aside to cool. Finely chop the remaining ounce. In another bowl, beat whipping cream until stiff. Add melted chocolate, egg yolks, and liqueur and beat to combine. Stir in chopped chocolate. Refrigerate overnight.

To assemble:
Place one meringue disk on a plate; spread 1/3 of the mousse over the top, coming to about ½ inch from the edges (mousse will squish out a little). Top with ½ of the strawberries. Place another meringue on top, then another 1/3 of the mousse, and the rest of the berries. Add the final meringue and the rest of the mousse, and garnish however you like: more strawberries, mint or lemon balm sprigs, toasted almonds, orange zest, white chocolate curls, whatever makes you happy.

Another note: this would be just as delicious made with raspberries and hazelnuts. Or with lightly cooked blueberries.

11 comments

In on the umlaut

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16 July 2009

  1. Sarah · July 16, 2009

    I’m an unabashed food lover and I really enjoy this column. Keep up the great recipes! I just moved here from out of province so if you feel like doing a column sometime on the best local places to find food, especially produce, that would rock my socks!

  2. Dreae · July 16, 2009

    Thanks, Sarah! Great suggestion – I’ve just had family move back to St. John’s from the mainland and have had to direct them to the sources of local produce, so I’ll definitely keep this in mind for a future column. In the mean time, if you have any questions about finding particular foodstuffs, feel free to e-mail me at dreae (at) thescope (dot) ca.

    Welcome to St. John’s!

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