This festive dessert is spectacular, time-consuming, and short lived. It is best made for a celebration.
It is simply a shell made of meringue filled with whipped cream and fresh berries; the trick lies in making a good shell.
5Egg Whites (at room temperature)
1⁄4 tCream of Tartar
1 tVanilla extract
1 1⁄4 cSugar
Butter and flour two or more baking sheets - as many as you need so you can mark into the floured surface 5 perfect circles, each 7 inched in diameter.
Set the over to 200 degrees. You will dry the meringue, not bake it.
Combine all ingredients except sugar and whip until the mixture holds soft peaks.
Gradually add the sugar, a little at a time. Continue until all the sugar has been added and the mixture is stiff and dull. A pinch between your fingers should no longer feel grainy. You want it stiff enough to hold its shape when squeezed through a pastry tube.
Use a pastry tube to form 4 rings and one circle of meringue on the sheets. The circle works best if you make a spiral from the outside in. Do not worry of it is not perfect. There should be some meringue remaining.
Dry in the oven about 40 minutes, or until they can be gently slid on the tray without losing their shape.
Prepare the berries. Any fresh berries will do. Color contast is good.
Stack the rings on top of the circle to form a drum-shaped shell. Then use the remaining meringue to lightly plaster the outside of the shell, making it as smooth as possible, or if you have a steady hand use a fork to make lightly ridged pattern.
Whip the cream.
Dry again for maybe 20 minutes or until the outside is dry and crisp.
Very carefully transfer the finished basket to a cake plate or onto something you will use to transport it. Just before serving, fill the shell, either by combining the cream and berries or by layering them. Reserve some for decoration.
The cream will start to soften the meringue within an hour or so, depending on how dry you got the meringue, so it is best to fill it just before serving.