I have never won any fun contests in my life. Sure, I had my fair share of wins in school and college, but I was a nerd (some of my friends are thinking “was?”) and these involved things like debates and elocution and science exhibitions. The closest I came to winning anything fun was a game of Housie (a close cousin of Bingo). I had a full house, the highest prize, but apparently so did this boy, who was much bigger and louder than I was. He walked away smugly with a trophy of a shiny Lego set. (Did I mention I was 10? Talk about holding a grudge!)
So when I discovered Food52, at first I didn’t even look at the contests. I was just so excited to find a new food website with so many creative people contributing new and wonderful recipes to try. However, a few weeks later, the banner for the week’s theme caught my eye – Strawberries. If I could eat only one fruit all my life, it would be strawberries. (No, mangoes! Well both. It’s my game.) I couldn’t stop thinking about them, the endless possibilities churning in my head. So I did the only thing that would turn me back into a sane person. I went and bought 2 pounds(!) of strawberries and proceeded to devise a recipe to showcase them.
That night I submitted my recipe and ate strawberries for the next 3 days. A week later, Merrill Stubbs(!) and Amanda Hesser(!!), who tested the recipe, picked it out to be among the 2 finalists, and a week after that the wonderful Food52 community voted it as their best strawberry recipe. I won!
I spent the day telling myself it was not a big deal and to wipe the stupid grin off my face. But I’m a bad listener, especially when my recipe gets to be featured in the Food52 cookbook!! I’d say that beats winning a Lego set any day of the week.
Even if I hadn’t won, this strawberry dessert would have been the best consolation prize anybody could have. Three layers of meringue are laden with the goodness of brown sugar, which adds a depth of flavor, and pistachios, which add a nutty chewiness to the stacks. These are sandwiched with a combination of whipped cream and mascarpone that is lightly perfumed with rose water. And finally, the star of the show – strawberries that have been macerated with sugar and a little more rose water to bring you summer on a plate.
This showstopper of a dessert involves less effort than your guests will give you credit for. You first create the meringue, which requires a little care while whipping, but after that there is little active involvement from your side as it transforms into light discs, that are crisp on the outside but have a marshmallow-like chewiness on the inside.
Once the discs are ready, you whip up the cream, mascarpone and rose water into a filling so lush, you want to just start licking the bowl and never stop (or was that just me?)
Heap the cream on the meringue disc.
Followed by bright, jewel-like strawberries that have been macerated with a little bit of sugar and rosewater.
And then repeat. (Cooking can be such a hardship sometimes.)
And finally, step back and stare at your creation – isn’t it a beauty? I promise you – it tastes as divine as it looks. What are you waiting for?
Pistachio Meringue Stack with Rose Cream and Strawberries
This recipe was originally inspired by Nigella Lawson’s Gooey Chocolate Stack. Summer, and leftover ingredients from a recent tryst with kheer (Indian rice pudding) inspired this version. You can locate pistachios and rose water at any Indian or Middle-Eastern store; if not, I’m sure the combination of almonds and pure vanilla would be equally delightful.
6 large egg whites (at room temperature, make sure there is no trace of egg yolk)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed, processed in a food processor if crystals are large)
1 cup fine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup pistachios, finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 250⁰F (120⁰C).
2. Lightly grease 3 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Alternatively, line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and draw an 8-inch circle on each one (you can use a cake pan as a guide to draw the circles).
3. In a clean metal or glass bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt till they hold soft peaks. Whisk in the sugars 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vinegar and whisk until the mixture looks glossy and holds stiff peaks. Fold in the chopped nuts, gently but thoroughly.
4. Divide the meringue mixture equally between the 3 cake pans or 3 circles drawn on the baking sheets. Smooth the tops with the back of a round spoon. Bake until the tops are crisp and dry, an hour to 1 hour 15 mins. Switch off the oven and leave the pans in to cool for an hour with the door slightly ajar.
2 pounds strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
1. While the meringues cool, halve or quarter the strawberries depending on their size. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle sugar and rose water over the berries, toss gently and let stand for half an hour.
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon rose water
1. Beat cream and mascarpone with the rose water in a bowl until the mixture just holds stiff peaks.
Garnish (optional): 1 tablespoon pistachios, chopped or slivered
1. Invert the cooled meringue discs onto a plate and gently peel off the parchment paper. Invert onto another plate so they are right side up.
2. Spread a third of the cream over one meringue disc, followed by a third of the strawberries. Repeat with the remaining meringue layers, cream and strawberries. Garnish with the slivered pistachios and serve.
Do-ahead: Although the dessert must be assembled just before serving, the meringue layers can be made ahead of time – they will keep well wrapped in parchment paper in an airtight container for up to a week.