Monday, 9 June 2014
It's my birthday in ten minutes. I'll be 25. A quarter of a century!
I created this recipe for my birthday party last year but the post about it lingered in my draft folder. Strawberry season ended and so here we are, a year on.
This batch of balsamic caramel had the distinction of being the first thing I made in my SAVEUR awards pan (we were given them as a sort of trophy, as you can see here - they have engraved handles).
The only word I can think of to describe my time in Vegas is surreal. Vegas itself, the desert heat, the jet lag, meeting people I didn't think I'd ever know in person - the whole thing had a dreamlike quality.
After the awards, I flew to California to spend a few days with my lovely friend Erin and her family. Erin and I first met at O Chamé in Berkeley, which has sadly now closed. That day I had their balsamic caramel gelato, which I later wrote about as one of most inspiring tastes of our trip. Strawberry and balsamic go well together, so last summer I decided to combine all three.
The balsamic in the caramel cuts through some of the sweetness of the meringue and strawberries. I also add a bit of crème fraîche to the whipped cream to give it a sour hint. It all comes together to make the classic combination a bit more interesting. You get crunchy, chewy and sweet from the meringue; softly whipped and slightly tart cream; fresh, bright strawberry, and then the complex caramel on top.
Finally, on Thursday I won Food Blog of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2014! It's such an honour to be chosen and I'm absolutely thrilled that lightning has struck twice.
In case you're curious, the five posts from 2013 that the judges looked at in particular:
Brown Butter Pound Cake
Caramelised White Chocolate Éclairs
Hot Cross Buns v.4
Dutch Baby a.k.a. Puffed Pancake
Foundations no.8 - Meringue Part I
The last post must have been the inspiration for this amusing comment in the awards booklet - so I think it's particularly appropriate that this post happened to be about whipping whites into meringues.
Strawberry & Balsamic Caramel Meringues
For the meringues:
slice of lemon
2 large egg whites (roughly 80g)
105g caster sugar
For the balsamic caramel sauce:
25g caster sugar
35g cold double cream
1/8-1/4 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
150g double cream (25g per person)
90g crème fraîche (15g/1 tbsp per person)
600g strawberries (100g or roughly 4-6 per person)
For a detailed guide to making meringue with lots of pictures (using the same quantities as here), see here. Preheat the oven to 100C/210F. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Wipe down a mixer bowl with the cut side of a slice of lemon. Add the egg whites to the bowl and attach the whisk attachment. Start whipping slowly, then increase the speed to medium-high. Keep whisking until the foam only has tiny bubbles then start adding the sugar slowly while whipping. Once it's all added, stop and scrape down the sides. Turn up to high and whip until the mixture holds stiff, glossy peaks (see guide for pictures) - this usually takes at least 2-3 minutes.
Divide the meringue into six dollops on the baking sheet, then use a teaspoon to form them into nests. Place into the oven and bake for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave to cool inside (you can either do this overnight or for a few hours). Store in an airtight tin until needed.
To make the caramel, spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a small pan. Place over a medium-high heat and watch carefully - after a few minutes, the sugar will start to liquify at the edges. Don't stir it - you can flick some of the crystals onto a liquid bit, but don't fiddle too much. Once it's nearly all melted and starts to caramelise, swirl it all together. Keep heating until you have a deep golden-bronze colour. Take off the heat, pour in the cream and stir until the bubbling stops. Scrape into a bowl then stir in 1/8 tsp of balsamic. Once it's cooled a bit, taste and see if you want to add another 1/8 tsp. Store in the fridge until needed.
To assemble, re-warm the caramel by pouring boiling water into a slightly bigger bowl and lowering the caramel bowl into the water, being careful the water doesn't spill into it (or place over a smaller pan of simmering water). Stir occasionally until it becomes warm and thinner in consistency. Place the cream and crème fraîche into a mixing bowl and whip until it thickens and you have very soft, floppy peaks (I do this by hand). Remove the tops of the strawberries and cut into quarters. Place a meringue onto a plate then top with cream, strawberries and a drizzle of caramel. Serve immediately.
I assemble them as-and-when for however many people I have to feed (or myself) - so I've put the per person amounts up above.
Adaption: For my birthday last year I made a meringue stack version of this recipe. I used a three egg white meringue mix (165g sugar) and spread it into 6" discs. It was hard to cut and I prefer the individual portions but it did look impressive. I had to take a photo of it outside at night, so it's not the best image, but still:
Three more posts about birthdays:
Chocolate Ice Cream and a very lovely 21st
Blueberry and Ginger Layer Cake
That Chocolate Cake
(Credit for the Guild portrait is to Charlotte Medlicott)