Le Vacherin, Meringue Cases for Strawberry Season Anytime Now!

Crisp, sweet, and light, a nice change from shortcakes and pies.
Periodically I have made meringues for berries and whipped cream.  There are numerous variations by lots of names.  They can be made very rustically by mounding with a spoon into large or small nests or more formally using a pastry bag and a decorative tip. 

Last week I drove east about a mile to Wright's Berry Farm and was told their luscious berries would be on in a week or two.  Today we are a week closer I am sure!  Since I freeze any leftover egg whites I have always have them on hand and have waited until today to bring them to room temperature and make meringues in advance of the season.  They can be sealed in freezer bags and frozen until needed very successfully.  Just beware they are fragile and break easily.  You do not want a frozen turkey to tumble down on this dainty package!

I have always made rustic nests with a spoon but thought today I would pile the meringue into a gallon freezer bag and clip a corner to form in a rustic yet taller nest.  I have vintage low footed berry dishes that were my late mother-in-law, Mary Lou's and they would just fit perfectly I think!

I have adapted the recipe from Julia Child's "The French Chef's Cookbook" although this is not the recipe I have used in the past it looks like it is more suitable for the day I have planned.

Ingredients for Le Vacherin also known as Meringues:

3/4 C. egg whites, about 6
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cream of tarter
2 C. granulated sugar, very fine if possible
2 t. vanilla extract

Note: It is very important when dealing with beating egg whites for anything that the egg whites are brought to room temperature, and that the mixer and utensils are absolutely clean, dry and free of any grease, otherwise the egg whites may not mound properly.

Beat the egg whites at medium speed using and electric mixer until they start to foam but are shapeless.  Add the salt and cream of tarter beating as you go.  Increase the beater speed to medium high.  As soon as the egg whites start to hold their shape softly, about a minute, beat in 1/4 C. of the sugar.  Beat in for 30 seconds and add the next 1/4 C. of sugar and continue beating and adding until you have added the first 1 C. of sugar.  Beat in the vanilla.  Increase the speed a bit and beat until there is no feel of the sugar when you press a small portion of the meringue between your fingers and the meringue is stiff enough that when you draw a knife through the center the valley remains open.

Remove the  beaters and the bowl and immediately sprinkle 1/4 C. sugar over the meringue and fold it rapidly into the mixture.  Continue adding 1/4 C. portions and folding until the second cup of sugar has been added.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.  Either line two jelly roll pans with parchment paper or use 1 T. soft butter and butter them both well.  Then if you choose to butter the pans dust them with all purpose flour shaking off the excess.

Mound the meringue into a 1 gallon freezer bag.  It is easier to do so if you stand the bottom of the bag in a small deep bowl, at least to support it's standing up in the beginning.  Push the meringue down into the lower bag with a spatula and seal it closed forcing out as much of the air as possible.  clip one of the bottom corners off with a scissors and proceed to push the meringue out to the form or shape you want to achieve.

Form 6 cases per sheet if making individual nests.  Place the baking sheets on the upper middle and lower middle racks in the preheated oven.  Immediately reduce the heat to 200 degrees F.  Bake for 2 hours or more.  Meringues are done when you can easily push them loose and they are no longer damp on the bottom.  I have heard of turning off the oven when they are done but then leaving them overnight in the closed oven to gently continue to dry.  The last tine I made them I did leave them all night.  The were perfect!   Yield 12 nests.

To serve place a meringue in a small dish.  Mound in fruit, berries, ice cream, or dessert cream and top with sweetened whipped cream.

I have today made these to store for use another time but I will take pictures and add them later to show how these were used.  This is a nice variation or change from shortcake and pie.

Helpful hint:  This needs to be a bit of a quick operation so be sure to gather everything together before you start.  I recommend also you prepare the pans before you start.  I always have to dig out the cream of tarter and make sure there is enough too as I do not use it terribly often,  not like cinnamon or vanilla that I use weekly. 

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