Monday, April 9, 2012

Strawberry Meringue Tartlets

This was my very first grownup Easter. By that I mean, it was the first holiday where I switched roles: from egg seeker to egg hider. Up until a very short while ago, I was still the kid on certain holidays, and that is still the case for Christmas. I absolutely, positively believe in Santa Claus. I'm not ready to become the magic behind Christmas just yet, but for Easter, just happened.
Instead of falling asleep after writing a note to the Easter Bunny and leaving it carrots and celery, and then waking up the next morning to find the hidden eggs, I hid the eggs. My cousin Harper and I buried them around the house (with a detailed inventory and treasure map so we didn't find a hard-boiled egg two weeks later), in a wine glass, on a book, in a rose plant and under the tail of a wooden duck.
Not only did we hide all the eggs for our little cousin, we wrote her back as the Easter Bunny confirming that yes, it does hang out with Santa Claus but not so much with the Tooth Fairy. She was very impressed with our handiwork and even showed me the note the next morning.
I read it back to her as if I were seeing it for the first time, impressed with my countenance. Even though we had successfully pulled off perhaps one of the most important elements of Easter and childhood, I felt a pang of disappointment or perhaps a growing pain.
My 18th birthday this past March definitely made me feel like a grownup, but it wasn't until Sunday that I felt completely initiated. I passed down the magic, the wonderful and fundamental charade that extends childhood until the child catches on.
Harper, breaking his 10 year old tough guy act for a second, confided in me that he missed hunting for the eggs a little bit. I did too, but the feeling of perpetuating this critical illusion for the little ones felt just as good.
For Easter, I decided to make Strawberry Meringue Tartlets from the Rose Bakery cookbook. Their recipe was for rhubarb meringue but I couldn't find rhubarb anywhere so I substituted the rhubarb with strawberries and made a very tart compote. To make the compote I used 1 lb of strawberries (4 cups sliced), 2 lemons and the zest of one, 3 1/3 tbs brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom.
Mix it all together and stir over a medium high heat until it boils. Then cook it on a medium temperature until the strawberries are very soft and the entire mixture can be mashed together. I couldn't find a potato masher, but that would be a great tool to use to blend the chopped strawberries with the liquid. I let this cool for the remainder of my baking time and in the meanwhile I made the crust.
I used tiny tartlet tins this time for individual tarts and I made two batches, yielding 12 tartlets in total. For the crust, I  kneaded 3 1/3 cups flour with 2/3 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cups butter. Then I added 1 tsp vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, 2 egg yolks and 1 egg and mixed it all together with a fork. I finished it off by kneading it with my fingers to make a homogenous mass of dough and rolled it out on wax paper, half at a time. I buttered the tins and then put the dough into each one and refrigerated for 30 minutes. Feel free to brush with a beaten egg before adding the filling for a glazed texture.
When they were done, I put tin foil in each tart and poured rice to their brims, to keep the shells down during the pre-baking stage. I baked the shells for 20 minutes at 350 F and then let them cool while I made the meringue. I beat 6 egg-whites and gradually added 1 3/4 cup sugar (continuously beating until there are stiff and glossy peaks) and then I folded in 1 tsp vanilla extract, red wine vinegar and cream of tartar.
I then spooned strawberry compote into each shell (3/4 full) and baked them without the meringue for 5 minutes. Then I took them out of the oven and spooned on the meringue and placed them back in for 20 minutes. The meringue should not be hard like in the cookies of the same name, but it should be browned on the outside.
Everyone got one tartlet (well, I had 1 1/2) and enjoyed it immensely. My cousin, Alexa, was my baking assistant and did everything from adding the sugar to the meringue to cutting the strawberries.
She also never caught on that I was her Easter Bunny and I hope that she, and all the other little skeptics out there, will have a few more years of magic left before they become the Easter Bunny for the next generation.

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