It's June and the strawberries are here in California! Strawberries make me think of yummy pies, strawberry shortcake and this crazy delicious dessert they make in the area around Gruyere, Switzerland. The Swiss combine perfectly crunchy meringues (non-fat but full of sugar) with double cream (no sugar but full of fat) and serve it with fresh strawberries in a dish that will blow your mind. It's reminiscent of a pavlova but better because it's even richer!
I've had this dish a few times in Switzerland and seek it out when I visit, but my favorite memory was the day we celebrated the 30th "Montee de Vache" or "taking-the-cows-up-the-mountain-for-their-summer-pasturing" of our friends who live on a farm in the Jura mountains.
First of all, the cows were all wearing their finest bells and some had multi-colored flower crowns on.
There was live music and homemade pizza from a portable pizza oven. And then when you were ready for dessert, there was double cream you could dribble over meringues and strawberries with a wooden spoon.
You're unlikely to find Gruyere-style double cream in your local grocery store, but you might find English double cream. And I think good-quality, full-fat creme fraiche works quite well.
Swiss double cream with meringue and strawberries
serves 6 to 8
4 egg whites, ideally at room temperature
1.5 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound strawberries
granulated sugar (optional)
about 2 cups double cream or creme fraiche
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Start beating your egg whites. Once they are nice and frothy, start adding your powdered sugar. This is a great time to use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment so you can easily add other ingredients while the machines keeps beating the egg whites. Add all of the sugar into the egg whites gradually and then add the vanilla, vinegar and cornstarch.
Once you start seeing stiff peaks and the meringue mixture looks nice and shiny, stop the machine and pull the whisk up to see if it keeps its shape. If so, you're ready to pipe your meringue kisses.
You could just use a spoon and create little blobs of meringue, but I find it pretty easy to use a large sealable plastic bag as a simple pastry bag. Fold the zipper part of the bag down around the outside, then scoop all your meringue into the bag. Fold the top back up and seal shut. Cut a small hole in one corner. It's better to start with a corner that's too small, because you can make it bigger but not smaller.
Squeeze the meringue onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat into kisses of about an inch diameter.
You can get them pretty close to each other. Mine were probably too close and they were very slightly stuck together when they finished baking, but they pop apart really easily.
Put all your meringues into the oven. I find that this amount of meringue is just a little bit more than one sheet can handle, but you should bake all your meringue at once. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for another 30 minutes.
While the meringue kisses are baking, slice up your strawberries into a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar if you'd like and let them sit for half an hour or so to macerate. This will help them release their juices and make them softer and sweeter.
Once the strawberries and meringues are ready, it's just a matter of serving up your dessert. Put a couple of spoonfuls of strawberry slices on a plate or a bowl. If you're using double cream and it's very thick, you can spread it on the bottom of your meringue kisses like David Lebovitz does here, or if you're using creme fraiche and it's softer you can just spoon some of it over the strawberries and then add the meringues. Either way, it will taste of early summer and the Swiss mountains.