By Barbara Beltrami
Last week I wrote about spring pastas. This week it’s about spring desserts, and don’t be surprised if next week it’s about spring something else because I am so happy to see this beautiful season that it’s just about all I can think of. Now is the time for some tangy lemon pavlovas and in May a rhubarb tart (I like rhubarb straight without strawberries upstaging it), and finally when those strawberries are ready to be plucked from local fields, they can have their own spotlight with old-fashioned strawberry shortcake.
Mini Lemon Pavlovas
YIELD: Makes 6 servings
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon potato starch
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup + 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra large egg or 2 medium eggs, beaten
Freshly grated zest of half a small lemon
Preheat oven to 225 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine egg whites with vinegar, vanilla, salt and cream of tartar; beat on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add 3/4 cup of sugar, one heaping tablespoonful at a time and beat on high speed after each addition until sugar is dissolve. After all the sugar has been added continue beating until stiff glossy peaks form.
Gently transfer meringue to a pastry bag or plastic bag with a small corner cut out and pipe the mixture into six 3-inch circles, building up the sides to form shells or cups; bake 45 to 50 minutes until dry and set; turn off oven but leave shells inside (without peeking!) for one hour. Then remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet.
In a small saucepan combine remaining sugar and potato starch; whisk in water and the 1/4 cup lemon juice until smooth; over medium heat cook, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat to low and cook and stir over low heat two minutes more; remove from heat, stir in remaining lemon juice and the zest, transfer to a small bowl, let cool but don’t stir and refrigerate, covered until chilled. When ready to serve, spoon into shells and serve with whipped cream and fresh raspberries.
YIELD: Makes one 9” tart
One 9” pie crust, baked until golden
3 tablespoons currant or strawberry jelly
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fruit-flavored brandy
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 pounds fresh rhubarb, leaves removed, ribs trimmed and cut into 1/2” pieces
Brush bottom of crust with jelly. In a large saucepan over medium heat combine sugar, water, brandy, lemon juice, nutmeg and cinnamon; stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a boil; add rhubarb and bring back to a boil, then reduce. Heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until rhubarb starts to soften, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat, keep covered and let sit about 15 minutes, until rhubarb is tender, then uncover and cool completely.
With a slotted spoon, remove rhubarb from liquid and place in baked pie shell. Boil remaining liquid over medium-high heat until reduced to glaze consistency, then brush over rhubarb. Serve hot or warm with vanilla or strawberry ice cream.
Biscuit Strawberry Shortcake
YIELD: Makes 8 servings
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Half a stick cold unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
2 cups whipped cream
Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. In a large bowl combine flour, two tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder, and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal; gradually stir in milk to form a soft dough. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls into 8 mounds on baking sheet; bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes; cool on wire rack, then split horizontally. In a large bowl combine strawberries, remaining sugar, orange juice and liqueur. Spoon onto bottom halves of biscuits, add on top halves and finish with dollops of whipped cream. Serve with coffee or tea.