I’m sure you’ve noticed that Christmas is coming– and fast. I’m also sure that you’re more organized than I am. You probably purchased all your Christmas gifts months ao, and you’ve got them stored in a box in the closet, wrapped and tagged and provided with thoughtfully written Christmas cards, full of love and good cheer. Me… well, I’ve been waiting. Now, less than two weeks from the day, I’m ready to start preparing. Thank goodness for internet shopping (to those of you who will be receiving gifts, please don’t take this as a sign that we don’t care. We very thoughtfully clicked on the “add to cart” button).
Now, though, the best part of preparation is upon us–the recipe reading, and the food choices, and the cooking, and the baking. I hope you’re having a wonderful time thinking about Christmas eating, whether you’re planning to make what you always make or whether you’re branching out and trying new treats.
If you’re thinking of trying something new, the Supper in Stereo test kitchen has something wonderful to offer. I think this is a perfect dessert. First, it’s perfectly pretty and Christmassy, with the rich, cream-white of the meringue complemented by the regal magenta of the cranberry curd. Second, it’s a medley of textures. The meringue is crisp on the outiside, velvety smooth and slightly chewy in its middle; the cranberry curd accents the slight chewiness of perfectly baked meringue with smooth, chilly, perfection. And that’s before your tongue even starts registering flavour: you’ll taste sweetness with a hint of vanilla before the astringent, rich curd hits your tongue to offset the sugar rush. These disappear quickly, so light that you register only delicious without noticing that you’re already full from dinner.
I made a variety of meringue shapes for this– it worked well in a meringue pie crust, which I created by spreading a smooth layer of meringue into a greased and lightly floured pie tin. I was worried about the runniness of the curd for serving, so I actually popped the meringue pie, complete with curd, into the oven at 350 F for 10 minutes, to set the curd a little more. That worked great, and though the pie collapsed into shards a little when I cut into it, it held its shape well, and made for easy serving.
I also made mini-pavs with a top that popped off easily after cooking, so that I could hide a velvety surprise of curd in the meringue’s bellies. This was my favourite serving technique, pretty and individually sized, so you could even set out a bunch of these on a platter. They’d still need napkins, though, as they’re two or three bite treats. To make a top that comes off easily, I made a smooth round of meringue and than dollopped an extra pyramid of meringue on top. When I baked them, the meringues split slightly at the edges of the top dollop, which then pulled of really easily, leaving a curd-holding crater in the middle. Put some curd in, put the top back on, and you’re ready to go!
You could also just make smooth circles of meringue, making the edges slightly higher than the middle so they can hold a tablespoon or so of curd, like pretty costume jewellery. It’s up to you.
I was pleased to find this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess,” as when I had the original idea for cranberry curd, I thought I’d have to make my own recipe. I followed Nigella’s recipe exactly, and it turned out perfectly. I’m providing volume conversions, but can’t guarantee them as I followed the weight measures provided in the cookbook. The only other change I made was to scale the recipe for the size of the bag of cranberries I bought, which was 350 grams, unlike the 500 called for in the book.
350 grams cranberries, fresh or frozen (this is the size of a package of cranberries in my supermarket–probably about 3 cups)
140 mL water (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
70 grams unsalted butter (5 tablespoons)
350 grams granulated sugar (1 1/3 cups)
4 large eggs
a food mill or, if you’re me, a fine-mesh strainer
1. Combine the cranberries and water in a saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the cranberries split open.
2. Push the cranberries through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a wooden spoon, or if you’re lucky and have a food mill, pass them through that. Return the seedless puree to the saucepan.
3. Add the sugar and the butter, melting them into the puree at low heat.
4. Next, add the eggs, which you have beaten in a separate bowl. Make sure the sugared puree isn’t too hot, so you don’t cook the eggs on contact (it’s a good idea to remove the cranberries from the heat to cool slightly while you beat the eggs).
5. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly. Do not allow the mixture to heat up too quickly, and never allow it to boil, or your eggs will curdle. Your curd is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Cool slightly before transferring to jars to keep in the fridge. This recipe makes about 3 cups of curd.
Meringue for Pie Crust or Mini-Pavlovas
This is another Nigella Lawson recipe, for which I changed temperature and time settings slightly. My meringues didn’t come out perfectly white, so if you’re after that, go ahead and lower the temperature and lengthen the time in the oven (eg. 1 hour at 225 F, followed by several hours drying time). Other than those time considerations, this recipe is fantastic. The vinegar really makes a difference for texture, as does the cornstarch. I used the weight measurements, so I can vouch for those, but like above, I’m also providing volume conversions. This recipe made one pie crust and 18 good-sized (about 3 inches wide) meringues.
8 large egg whites
pinch of salt
500 grams granulated sugar (3 cups)
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 scant teaspoon vanilla extract (optional– omit if you want snow-white meringues)
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (white vinegar also works)
1.Preheat the oven to between 250-275 F. My oven runs a bit cold, so I went with 275. Remember you can go cooler and extend the cooking time if you wish. Prepare a pie pan by greasing and lightly flouring it if you are making a meringue pie crust. Line baking sheets with parchment paper for the mini-pavs.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand-held mixer) whisk the egg whites until they hold peaks, but aren’t stiff.
3. Add the sugar by spoonfuls while you continue to beat. When the sugar is added, continue beating until the meringue is stiff, glossy. A good test is that a bit of meringue pressed between your fingers no longer feels grainy from the sugar.
4. Dust with cornstarch, and sprinkle the vanilla and vinegar over the meringue. Gently fold to combine.
5. For pie crust, gently spread a thin layer of meringue into the pan, building it up along the edges, taking care not to overlap the edges of the pan (remember it will puff slightly). For the meringues, use a spoon to smooth out 3-inch circles on the parchment paper. If you’d like a cap that pulls off easily, dollop a bit of meringue on top of your smooth circles. The meringue should crack at the seams between the round bottom and pyramid top.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, then turn off heat, stick a wooden spoon in the oven door to hold it slightly ajar, and allow meringues to “dry” in the oven for several hours or even overnight.
TO ASSEMBLE CRANBERRY CURD PAVLOVAS
-to make a cranberry-meringue tart, spread curd about a centimetre deep in prepared meringue pie shell. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes to set the curd a bit more
-for capped meringues, gently pull or cut off the top of your meringues, dollop a few tablespoons of curd inside the belly of the meringue, and replace the cap
– for smoother buttons of meringue, spread a layer of curd over the top of the meringue, and top with a swirl of whipped cream, if desired