This recipe is another I cooked from Memories with Food at Gipsy House by Felicity and Roald Dahl (see my review and other recipes from the book here).
The Dahls employed a number of housekeeper-cooks – always young women – who each contributed their own recipes and unique styles. This particular dish originates from Josie Fison, one of the major influences on the book – described as a “breathtakingly brilliant” cook by Roald Dahl.
Having always been taught that meringue should be cooked low and slow, this recipe is something of a revelation. Cooked on a pretty high heat – 180c – the meringues puff up dramatically, forming a ethereally light, crisp outer shell and a soft, airy, chewy centre. Beautiful contrast.
The toasted hazelnuts, sprinkled on top, really add an important flavour and textural dimension. The original Gipsy House recipe calls for the hazelnuts to be toasted in their skins in a low oven for two hours. Two hours?? For me, nuts are toasted for a maximum of ten-fifteen minutes, albeit on a higher heat. What am I missing? Are very long, slow-roasted nuts infinitely superior? I don’t quite have the patience to conduct a two-hour experiment, but if anyone can shed any light on this issue I’d be delighted to hear from you.
The sauce I opted to serve these meringues with also deviates somewhat from the Gipsy House recipe. While they recommended a sweetened blackberry purée, I decided to use a spiced berry sauce that I have tried in the past. The combination of fruits and spices make for a complex, layered taste which really jazzes up the somewhat one-dimensionally sweet meringue.
This sauce contains various different berries, diced fresh pear, lemon zest and a variety of spices. It has a somewhat Christmassy touch, but I refuse to banish it solely to that season where it might get lost in the midst of all the excess.
You can keep the sauce as a whole fruit compôte or blend it into a purée as you fancy. I think the whole berries look more beautiful, and you can really appreciate exactly what it is you’re eating, but I think the taste of the purée is better. When all the ingredients are melded together, there is a pleasing harmony, layer upon layer of flavours. They become more than the sum of their parts.
But to my mind both the additions – the berry sauce and the cream – are necessary to elevate the sweet meringue to something sublime. A range of flavours – fruity, sweet, tart, spicy, milky; and textures – airy, chewy, creamy, silky – are what makes this dessert.
- 140g hazelnuts
- 4 egg whites
- 225g unrefined caster sugar
- drop of vanilla essence
- 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 400g mixed berries (frozen is fine)
- 1 pear, diced 0.5cm
- 400ml cloudy apply juice
- 60ml Port
- 1 vanilla pod, split and scraped
- 3 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- juice and zest of one lemon
- Toast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes at 180c. Rub off the skins if necessary and roughly crush.
- Whisk the egg whites in a very clean bowl until soft peaks, then gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla essence and white wine vinegar until very stiff.
- Dollop the meringue onto a baking paper-lined tray and sprinkle with hazelnuts.
- Bake at 180c for 35 minutes and allow to cool completely before removing from the baking paper.
- Simmer all the ingredients except the lemon zest and juice until the fruit is soft and the sauce is well reduced and syrupy. Add the lemon juice and zest. Either serve as is, or purée and strain for a smooth, silky sauce.