How to Fall in Love with a Dessert
Desserts are easy to love. Most of the people find themselves excited and desirous of having them as often as possible. That strong attraction usually includes a craving so powerful that it seems to the affected person that there is no happiness without a piece of that decadent cake. A smell, a picture, a thought might ignite that powerful feeling. Are you still with me or already sighing dreamily about your favorite one? Oh yes…
Well, it doesn’t work for me. I’ve seen the pictures and read the stories about the meringue roll for years, and they didn’t affect me at all. Tasting it for the first time — did. I couldn’t imagine that marvelous olfactory satisfaction before experiencing it. I have to warn you though, there are many recipes named the same way. Some of them belong to famous pastry chefs and home cooks. They all differ. This meringue roll is barely sweet, very moist, highly delicate yet combining a meringue and silky thick creme of similar density, with little sparks of tart raspberries and crunchy hazelnuts.
After I tasted my friend Anna’s version in Oregon a few months ago, this dessert became the most often served for my family and friends. Anna confided being asked to make this roll again and again. My experience is the same and it seems like nobody ever gets tired of it. I experimented with different types of meringues, sugars, creams, mousses, thickeners, stabilizers, berries, fruit, nuts, etc. The recipe kept evolving. I wanted to make it work in my kitchen with 100% consistency taking into account tools and appliances I have. If you follow this recipe in your kitchen, make sure you understand how changes you make affect the result. I’ll do my best to provide helpful notes, but it’s impossible to cover every detail.
Meringue is misunderstood by many people. They either don’t know how meringue works or follow legends about it from the pre-food-science past. That is true even for many pros who can make consistently good meringue but can’t correctly explain why.
For the meringue roll, we need a strong yet moist and flexible meringue. Look at the list of ingredients. Can you tell what items are responsible for that? I can bet many will point to the vinegar and/or starch when the most important is the ratio of sugar to egg whites. For the dry meringue, you would use 2 parts of whites to 3 parts of sugar. In this recipe, it’s the opposite. Sugar is also the main stabilizer for the egg whites foam. The less sugar, the easier it is to overwhip and collapse the meringue.
Now, look at the instructions. Can you say what steps keep the meringue moist? First, we use the Swiss meringue method and stop whipping at the stage of medium-stiff peaks. Second, you are absolutely right thinking about the combination of time and temperature in the oven. The lower the temperature and the longer time a meringue is cooked in the oven, the drier inside and crispier and less caramelized outside you can make it. Adding a little bit of starch helps, but is not critical. Adding vinegar, citrus juice, or any other acidic ingredient (as well as salt) mostly balances the sweetness of the meringue.
After trying many, I decided that the simple mascarpone creme works the best while being the easiest to make. The basic recipe for the mascarpone creme can be modified by adding flavors. One direction is to make cold or hot heavy whipping cream infusions with herbs, teas, or coffee. Another is to add 2-4 tbsp of curds, syrups, or caramel sauces to the basic recipe. Playing with fresh berries and diced fruit to replace raspberries may also give great variations of flavor. Make sure to keep your creme thick and dense. See Recipe Notes section below for more ideas.
Chopped nuts add to the variety of flavors and textures. My favorite nuts are toasted Oregon hazelnuts from Trader Joe’s, but any toasted nuts will work great. You need them toasted to stay crunchy. Nuts also help to shape the roll, because they prevent the meringue from sticking to the parchment paper/silicone mat during the process.