I cannot remember a Passover meal without my mother-in-law’s meringue nests for dessert. These are truly a family tradition. The little meringue shells are made from egg whites and sugar with a hint of vanilla extract and are filled with fresh fruit. They are tasty and colorful and truly remind me of spring. Fill them with whatever fruit is in season — blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. Best yet, this dessert is fat-free and healthy. It will surely impress! This is the “perfect” and elegant dessert for spring — serve it for Easter dinner, too!
Meringue shells are tricky to make, but if you follow these instructions exactly as I have written them out — using my tips, then hopefully your meringue shells will come out as perfectly as mine did. I am pleased that I got these just right on my first try!
Passover celebrations include an elaborate meal as part of a service. The “Hagaddah” — or service book — is read and it tells the story of the exodus the Hebrew people — held in slavery — from Egypt and the survival of the Jewish people. It is a tribute to the strength of these people and, over the years, I have come to appreciate the traditions and values of this culture. This is one event that the entire family never misses.
Certain foods — including wheat, many grains and leavening agents are avoided during Passover. These restrictions certainly limit what can be served for dessert. No flour, no baking powder, etc. So, meringue nests are a very traditional dessert which is often served because they contain neither flour or leavening agents.
Making the meringue shells
A meringue is basically egg whites beaten with sugar. In this case, the meringue is formed into “nests” using small spoons to scoop the meringue and form the nest. The meringue shells are baked in the oven set to a very low temperature. Some recipes for meringues add other ingredients such as flavorings, nuts, coconut and shreds of chocolate. This recipe, however, is just the meringue.
Here are some tips for making perfect shells.
- The egg whites should be at room temperature. (I don’t know why — but that’s what the experts say.) So, let the eggs set on the kitchen counter for an hour or more before beginning.
- Use a clean, clean bowl for beating the egg whites. You will need an electric mixer for this project. No oil or other substances can contact the bowl used for beating the egg whites. So make sure everything (bowl and beaters) are clean and dry.
- Use an egg separator when cracking the eggs. Even the smallest bit of egg yolk will cause the meringue to fail. The egg whites cannot contain any pieces of egg yolks or they won’t beat up. Start over and use that egg for something else.
- Add a bit of cream of tartar to the egg whites. This seems to help the structure of the meringue. A little vanilla extract here adds a nice flavor.
- Beat the eggs on medium speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. (In other words, don’t start out with the mixer on a high speed setting.) This may take three to five minutes.
- After the egg whites get foamy with soft peaks, then increase the speed to high. Sprinkle the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, onto the egg whites. This will take about ten minutes to add the entire amount of sugar. Go very slowly.
- If adding nuts, chocolate, coconut or or other ingredients, carefully fold into the meringue. Stop the mixer and do this step by hand. Use a lifting motion to add the ingredients.
- Use two spoons to scoop out the meringue and form small balls, about 2-1/2″ to 3″ in diameter. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. The back of the spoon can be used to form the “nest.”
- Bake in a very low temperature oven, 250 degrees for about 40 minutes — turning the baking sheet after 20 minutes — and then let the meringues set in the oven for an additional 30 minutes to cool with the oven heat turned off.
- The meringue shells can be made several days ahead of time. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Yeah! We did it.
Traditionally the meringue shells are filled with fresh fruit. My meringue shells are very small and only accommodated a few pieces of fresh fruit. I added additional fruit on the dessert plate around the “nest.”
To add a little sauce to the meringue “nests,” I made a blackberry sauce by cooking sugar with some of the blackberries, then smashing them. I also made a sauce of melted blueberry jam to add liquid to the dessert.
Enjoy all sorts of creative variations. These little meringue nests “melt in your mouth.” They are the perfect way to end a rich Passover or Easter dinner. Just a “touch” of sweetness with fresh fruit. Delicious! Brings back many memories of Passover meals at relatives.
Meringue Nests with Fresh Fruit
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups (1 pint) of assorted fresh fruit (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries), cut up and mixed with 1 Tbsp sugar
Method and Steps:
- Pre-heat oven to 225 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Separate eggs into yolks and whites. Make sure no parts of egg yolks are mixed with whites. Reserve egg yolks for another use. Let egg whites set on kitchen counter at room temperature for one hour or more.
- Add egg whites to clean medium-sized bowl of electric mixer.
- Add vanilla extract and cream of tarter to egg whites. Beat at medium speed until egg whites form soft peaks. This may take 3 to 5 minutes.
- Increase speed of mixer to high. Sprinkle in sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until all sugar is combined and until firm peaks form. This may take up to 10 minutes in time.
- Scoop egg whites by tablespoons onto parchment paper-lined sheet pan making 12 circles. Use back of spoon to indent and form a “nest.”
- Place in 225 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes, turning pan around half way through cooking time.
- Turn oven off, and leg meringues cool in oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Meringues may be made several days ahead.
- When ready to serve, spoon fresh fruit mixture into egg nests and serve.