In my family, we don´t keep to too many Easter traditions. Last year, we were all sick, which didn´t leave much room for a festive mood to spread; this year, things look good in that respect, not counting the usual runny noses. But while in Advent, a well-tried arsenal of rituals – tree, ornaments, songs – helps to build anticipation until the big day, Easter, at least in our house, is far less well choreographed. Over dying eggs and crafting little presents, I´ve talked with my kids about the meaning of Easter, trying to explain there´s actually more to it than a bunny and a nest of chocolate eggs. But so far, the egg hunt and the hidden gifts are the only things fixed in our plans for this holiday weekend. That, and that there will be food; probably lots of food. Until now, I only have vague ideas what to cook, but it´s safe to say there better be enough room in the refrigerator. Not having an actual plan always tempts me to buy very much, just in case. In preparation for imminent, if yet unspecified feasts, this week was all about getting rid of some things; a week of leftover cooking and baking (and it´s a safe bet to assume that next week will be quite the same).
As I love making tarts, usually requiring yolks for the crust, an old bonne maman jar harboring egg whites almost always claims some space in my fridge. When I held it in my hands today, it gave me the idea to draw on the German tradition of making an Easter wreath. In Germany, this usually means a braided yeast wreath made for breakfast or brunch, often decorated with hard boiled or chocolate eggs. My version sticks to the eggs theme, yet accommodates our unabated love for meringues & cream, a combination that almost inevitably screams for fresh fruit, preferably in all shades of red, as if it was summer already. (Dream on, Easter will be rainy.) Decorated with a few minty, lemony leaves of vervain from the garden, this Eton Mess-y cake might become a stable on our Easter table: light, delicious, easy to make. Time will tell. If you don’t cherish the old traditions, creating new ones might not be the worst idea.
Meringue wreath with cream & red berries (serves 6):
4 large egg whites (120 g)
200 g confectioner´s sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
a few drops vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
drying/baking: 120°C/60°F 60 min
The egg whites should be at room temperature. Any equipment you need for this must be super clean so there´s no contamination with fat (including traces of egg yolk). In a large bowl or using the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites with 1 pinch of salt until frothy, 1-2 min. Mix together cornstarch and confectioner´s sugar. Gradually add this mixture to the whites – I add about a fifth to a quarter at a time. Whisk at high speed, and wait until fully incorporated before adding more sugar. In the end,after 10-12 minutes of whisking at high speed with the kitchen machine, the mixture should be glossy and hold its peaks.
Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 120°C/60 °F. Using 2 large spoons, spoon 7-8 meringues onto the parchment paper, creating a circular pattern, and leaving a small gap in between neighboring meringues – the will puff up a little and get in touch with one another). Dry for an hour. Leave it the switched off oven for another hour, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Decoration and assembly:
200 g full fat cream
3 tbsp sugar
few drops rose water, if you wish
a few raspberries, halved strawberries and red currants
a few chopped pistachios
a few leaflets of vervain
Whisk cream – it works much better when well chilled – with sugar until stiff. Spoon (or pipe) on the cooled meringue. Decorate with fruit of your choice, pistachios and vervain/mint/lavender, if desired. Serve immediately.