As usual, strawberry season is off to a bashful start at our Belleville and Versailles farms! Just when we start seeing ripe berries in the field, Mother Nature sends a series of cool and rainy days our way. And even my nine year old knows “that can’t be good for the strawberries!” He knows our whole Eckert’s team is itching to open for our first pick-your-own crop of the year and as a self-appointed crop scout, he also knows there are lots of green berries in the field awaiting direct connection with the sun.
So while we wait for sunnier days ahead, I did manage to find a few ripe berries this week and sneak off into our classroom test kitchen. This is for sure the prettiest recipe I have made all year! I am going to make these Fresh Strawberry & Custard Parfaits again for Mother’s Day because I know they will be a hit with kids, moms and dads alike at our family’s celebration. The meringues can be made a day or two ahead and the recipe completely reminds me of my grandma’s recipe for nighty night cookies. You bake the meringues at a low temperature. Then you turn off the oven and let them “sleep” in the oven overnight. My daughter is all over making this part of the recipe for me so I will have it easy there!
The custard layer in this recipe is a classic custard recipe. It is similar to cream pie filling that I make for coconut cream. This step is somewhat time and attention-consuming and as I stirred, I heard my grandma saying in my ear that I just have to have patience and stir it for the full 10-12 minutes. (No toggling your phone or texting, stay focused here!)
Then the final step is a little like assembling a lasagna. Be sure to select the prettiest glasses you have to show off the colorful layers. These parfaits can be made in large servings or even in 4 oz jam jars for mini desserts. Whatever size you choose, they are guaranteed to be a sweet sensation!
Eat well this strawberry season, Angie
Strawberry & Meringue Parfaits
4 egg whites, reserve yolks
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. almond extract
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
3 cups half and half
¼ cup butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 quart fresh strawberries, sliced
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixture until foaming. Add cream of tartar and almond extract and beat until blended. Gradually add sugar beating until stiff peaks form. Using two metal spoons, evenly drop the meringue mixture onto a parchment lined cookie sheet in 18 similar size “drops.” Bake meringues for 2 hours without opening the door. Then turn off the oven and let stand in the oven for 8 hours more. (Meringues can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.)
To make the custard, combine 1 ½ cups sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in egg yolks and half and half; cook milk mixture, whisking often, 10-12 minutes or until thickened*. Increase heat to medium high. Bring milk mixture to a boil and stir constantly for 1 minute. Remove mixture from the heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract. Cover and chill 6-24 hours. Spoon half of custard into 6 glasses or parfait dishes. Top with half of sliced strawberries and three meringues. Repeat layers two more times for a total of 3 layers of each ingredient. End with one meringue on top.
*This is a critical step and full attention is needed for the full 12 minutes. Stir often and be sure to the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent browning.