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Eric Akis: Celebrate strawberry season with a tasty, eye-catching dessert

You know summer is just around the corner when local, just-picked, ripe, sweet, heavenly aromatic strawberries are in season.
Local stawberries top sweet, cocoa-flavoured, single-serving meringues in this pretty dessert. ERIC AKIS

You know summer is just around the corner when local, just-picked, ripe, sweet, heavenly aromatic strawberries are in season. And I’m happy to announce, that is now!

They’re wonderful to eat on their own, but, of course, are also splendid in a dessert, such as my recipe for cocoa meringues.

To make them, sweetened egg whites are whipped into meringue that’s flavoured with cocoa powder. Some cornstarch is also mixed in, which helps absorb excess moisture in the meringue — an important thing if you’re making meringue on a rainy or hot and humid day.

The meringue was piped into four, about eight-centimetre rounds, with the sides built up, creating a hollow in the middle. During baking, the meringues widen a little bit, and when ready to use, are crisp on the outside, and marshmallow like in the centre.

Each meringue provides a single serving that you plate and top with sweetened whipped cream, sliced strawberries and garnishes. It’s a really pretty dessert and a divine summer-is-almost-here treat.

When making meringue, use a spotlessly clean and dry stainless steel, glass or copper bowl to beat the egg whites with a stand or hand mixer. Do not use a wooden or plastic bowl, as they can absorb oil that can prevent egg whites from forming peaks.

Even tiny bits of egg yolk left in the whites can also prevent the whites from forming peaks. To separate the white from the yolk, crack a cold egg into a bowl. Slide your fingers under the yolk. Now carefully lift up the yolk and let the whites around it drip through your fingers. Place the yolk in another bowl. Transfer the egg white to your mixing bowl. Keep separating eggs like this until you have the required whites for your recipe. The leftover yolks can be covered, refrigerated and later used for such things as hollandaise or mayonnaise.

Cocoa Meringues with Island Strawberries and Cream

Sweet, cocoa-flavoured, single-serving meringues are topped with whipped cream and sliced local strawberries.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes, plus oven cooling time

Makes: four servings

2 large egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 cup berry (extra fine) sugar (see Note 1)

1 Tbsp cocoa, sifted

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

1 cup whipping cream

2 Tbsp icing sugar, plus some for dusting

20 ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 1 pint)

• pansies and/or mint sprigs, for garnish (see Note 2)

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw four, three-inch diameter circles on the parchment, spacing each one a few inches apart. (I did this with a pen and used a three-inch round cookie cutter as a guide.) Invert the paper; you’ll still see the circles through it.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whipping attachment (see Eric’s options). Whip the egg whites until very soft peaks form. Now gradually add the sugar, whipping constantly, until all is incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowls with a spatula, and then whip a few minutes more, until meringue is thick and glossy and stiff peaks form. Whip in the cocoa and cornstarch until well combined. Scrape down the side of the bowls with a spatula again, and whip a few second more.

Spoon the meringue into a large piping bag fitted with a star tip, making sure you get all of it (see Eric’s options). Pipe four, three-inch circles of meringue, using the circles you drew on the parchment to guide you. When piping the circles, build up the edges of the meringue to about one and half inches in height, create a hollow in the middle.

Bake the meringues for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the meringues cool completely in the oven, undisturbed, for two hours (see Eric’s options).

To finish the meringues, whip the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add 2 Tbsp icing sugar and beat until stiff peaks form (see Eric’s options).

Divide and pipe or spoon whipped cream into the centre of each meringue, and then top with strawberries. Dust each meringue with icing sugar, garnish with pansies and/or mint sprigs, and serve.

Note 1: Berry (extra fine) sugar and cream of tartar are sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores.

Note 2: Pansies are an edible flower, but don’t use them for a garnish if they’ve been sprayed with anything.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you could use a stainless, copper or glass bowl and electric hand mixer to make the meringue. If you don’t have a piping bag, simply spoon the meringue into three-inch rounds, building up the sides. The meringues can be made a day in advance. Once out of the oven, store in an airtight container until needed. You could add a splash of vanilla or orange liqueur to the cream, after whipping it.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.