According to the stylist who “did” my colors, I’m “a winter.” That classification gives me the fashion go-ahead to wear black — thank goodness — as well as purple, my favorite color, plus electric blue, red and pink. However, I am not a pink person. Baby colors are not for me. I don’t like stuff that’s all girly-girly.
Except on Valentine’s Day.
When the holiday rolls around, I’m all hearts and flowers, baby’s breath and pink. Got ruffles and doilies and lace, pretty berries and whipped cream, sweetness and light? Send ’em my way.
So here’s what I’m sending you this romantic 14th: pink puffs of meringue, pink clouds of whipped cream and bright red berries. You don’t get girlier than that, and you don’t get more delicious, either. The bonus: The puffs are fun to make.
Meringues are one of the miracles of the kitchen. Egg whites and sugar, low heat and time yield crunch and a base for just about anything you can imagine. For Valentine’s Day, I’ve kept it simple: a nest of pastel-pink meringue filled with a dab of red jam and lots of pink whipped cream topped with berries. It’s dreamy, it’s romantic, and the meringue and cream are great foils for each other. One’s velvety, the other’s crackly; one’s dry, the other’s rich. They’re both sweet. The berries are tart, and the puffs are beautiful.
If you’re new to meringue, welcome to its magical world and its few simple rules:
To get the best rise from the egg whites, they must be at room temperature. If your whites are cold, put them in a bowl, put the bowl in a larger bowl filled with hot tap water and let them sit for a few minutes; stir occasionally.
Even the slightest bit of fat, including a speck of egg yolk, can impede egg whites’ rise to glory. Make sure that your bowl and beater are impeccably clean and dry.
Whip the whites until they are opaque and start to thicken, then begin adding the sugar only one spoonful at a time. Beat until that bit of sugar is fully incorporated before adding the next spoonful. It should take you at least five minutes (yep, five full minutes) to beat in all the sugar. Once it’s in, you’ll have a bowl full of snow-white, glossy marshmallow fluff. Pull out the beater, and it will leave beautiful peaks in its wake.
You’re making individual puffs here, so scoop the whites over-generously with a spoon or a large cookie scoop onto lined baking sheets. If you want smooth-looking puffs, rinse your scoop with cold water, shaking out the excess every few puffs’ worth.
Use a soup spoon to make the indents in each puff: Wet this spoon as well, shaking off the water and using the spoon’s underside to smooth the inside of each hollow.
Bake the meringue puffs in a preheated 250-degree oven. You’re drying these more than baking them, and although they might color just a smidge, color isn’t your aim: Crispness is. Don’t open the oven while the meringues bake!
Once your timer goes off, turn off the oven, open its door just a crack, prop it open with a wooden spoon or whatever, and then forget about your darlings for at least two hours (or for as long as overnight). That will let out whatever moisture has built up in the oven and allow the meringues to finish drying.
It’s the drying that makes meringues meringue-y, so if your kitchen is humid, turn on the air conditioning or wait for a drier day.
After you’ve filled the puffs’ hollows with whipped cream, you can refrigerate them for a few hours. The meringue will lose its snap but none of its loveliness. Add the berries just before serving.
And while we’re going pink and girlie, why not do it up right: Rosé champagne is the perfect sip-along.
Photograph by Deb Lindsey. This story originally appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in the Washington Post.