JR Ryall, the head pastry chef of Ballymaloe House’s Yeats Room restaurant begins his day in the same manner as his mentor, the late Myrtle Allen who founded the country house hotel in 1964. After more than ten years cooking at her side, her dictum of always starting with what is in season and available from the grounds and local producers, is ingrained in his own methodology.
Texture as well as flavor, are of equal importance. In the Ballymaloe House pastry kitchen egg whites, of which there is always a surplus, invariably find their way into meringues, which offer a little crunch on the trolley. In this recipe, autumnal pears from trees in the walled garden and walnuts combine with the sweetness of the meringue to make a light, crunchy cake of perennial popularity.
“Meringue gateaux are a very useful way to serve fresh fruit as an elegant dessert,” says Ryall. “Pears are tricky to grow, tricky to ripen and tricky to catch at the perfect moment. There are many pear trees at Ballymaloe and they grow well against the comfort of a south facing wall. The best and most useful pears are the later varieties which can be stored into the winter and bring a freshness to the dessert trolley during these months. The Josephine de Malines is one of the newer varieties planted here. Harvested late, it crops well and stores well. They are also beautiful in this recipe: the walnut in the meringue encourages the ripe pear to taste its best, and, of course, if you are eating meringue, you must also have cream.”
Walnut Meringue Gateau with Pears
2 egg whites
125g (4oz / 1/2 cup) castor sugar
12 fresh chopped walnuts
5 walnut halves (for decoration)
225ml (8fl oz/1 cups) unsweetened softly whipped cream
2 ripe dessert pears
Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas Mark 2.
Check that the bowl of your electric mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.
Cover a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Draw out 2 x 19cm (7 1/2 inch) circles on the paper.
Place egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl. Whisk until mixture forms stiff peaks (this can take about 10 minutes). Fold in the chopped walnuts and spread evenly into circles onto the baking tray.
Bake in preheated oven for one hour until crisp and set. Allow to cool completely.
To assemble, put one of the meringue discs on a serving plate. Peel the pears, core and slice. Spread or pipe most of the softly whipped cream over the meringue; arrange the pears on top of the cream. Put the second disc of meringue on top and press down lightly. Decorate with rosettes of cream and the walnut halves.
Please be sure to save the non-stick baking paper to reuse the next time you are making meringues.
Cliodhna Prendergast is a professional chef, writer, and producer living and working on the west coast of Ireland. She is a food writer for The Sunday Times, and one half of Lens and Larder, photography and food styling workshops telling visual food stories with international photographers in extraordinary Irish Country Houses. Cliodhna is also an avid wild food gatherer.