Chestnut meringues


Like any good San Franciscan, I know how to layer. I’ve lived here so long that I’ve become constitutionally incapable of leaving the house without a sweater, which, when I’m here is a good practice. When I’m in, say, Minnesota in August, however, it seems a wee bit pathological. As I type this I’m wearing a long-underwear-grade insulated silk camisole, a t-shirt, a wool/silk lighter weight sweater, and a big cozy cardigan along with wool tights layered with socks under a skirt that itself is multi-layered.

For Christmas a good friend sent me Terrine, by Stéphane Reynaud. In general the cookbooks are no longer such great gifts for me. I have a lot of them and they are part of “work.” As much as I like my work, it still occupies the work part of my brain and not so much the “fun gift” part. I’d like fewer cookbooks, in fact. I’m constantly culling the collection, trying to keep it manageable and in some small way useful. But friends write them and I’m happy to get those, and then publishers send them to me all the time for one reason or another, and the stacks re-form despite my best efforts. So when I opened the present and saw a cookbook I was, at best, underwhelmed. I mean, really, how many patés is a girl ever going to make? Especially with a dashing husband who is quasi-vegetarian?

Then I started paging through it. Oh. My. God. This book is beautiful and inspiring and makes me want to layer everything. Everything. Fish, vegetables, cheese, meats, sweets – everything.

So when friends were in town for the weekend and I had a good excuse to cook too much food, I layered like a crazy person. A terrine starter, then pizza because an all-terrine meal would be weird and my pizza is so good, and then the chestnut meringue “terrine” pictured above.

Of course, the chestnut meringue is not really a terrine. It’s just a layered dessert. It is also the best dessert I’ve ever made. I used the recipe in Terrine as a jumping off point, but cut down on the sugar in the meringues, added vanilla to the whipped cream to great effect, and fixed the messed up not-tested metric-to-American measurements.

Chestnut meringue “terrine”

I’m a lucky girl whose neighborhood market carries this delicious vanilla-ed Clement Faugier chestnut spread. That link will let you buy some if you are not quite so lucky.

4 egg whites

tiny pinch of salt

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise

1/4 cup granulated sugar

About 1 cup chestnut spread

Preheat oven to 200. Prepare two or three large baking sheets by lining them with either silpats or parchment paper.

Whip egg whites until frothy. Add the pinch of salt, beat until they hold stiff peaks (you should be able to lift the beater or whisk out of the egg whites, turn it upside down, and the peak of egg white that clings to the beater or whisk should hold its position). Sift the powdered sugar onto the egg whites and use a flexible rubber or silicone spatula to gently fold the sugar into the egg whites. Deflate the egg whites as little as possible.

You can get fancy and use a pastry bag to pipe out the meringue onto the baking sheets, but that seems messy and silly to me (they get covered with whipped cream later anyway). I diviied out the mixture into three piles on the baking sheets and then used a spatula to form circles, each about 8 inches across. Bake 2 hours without opening the door or bothering them in anyway. Turn off the oven and let them cool in the cooling-off oven (this seems to help keeps the meringues from cracking as they cool.

Meanwhile, you can prepare the cream. Put the cream, vanilla bean, and granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar into the cream. Take off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Use a small spoon to scrape the vanilla bean flesh into the cream and discard the pod. Transfer cream to a medium bowl, cover, and chill until ready to use.

When ready to serve, whip cream until soft peaks form so you can dollop and spread it easily. Remove meringues from baking sheets. Place one meringue on a serving plate, spread with one-third of the chestnut spread and layer on one-third of the whipped cream. Repeat with all three layers. Bring to the table and accept your oohs and ahhs. Then destroy your creation by cutting it into slices. I found this serves 6 just right. You could stretch it to 8 but people might feel like they didn’t quite get enough. You could divide it among 4 for sugar hogs, no problem.

More adventurous, finicky bakers could always make smaller meringue rounds to create individual servings, which would undoubtedly be much prettier.

If you’re invited to my house for dinner anytime soon, consider yourself warned: come prepared for layers.