Easter is just around the corner, which always makes me want to say goodbye to heavy wintry desserts and welcome all the fresh and vibrant flavors of spring to the table. For this year's Easter table, I decided to make these individual meringue nests, filled with a swirled orange curd cream, fresh red currants, and chocolate Easter eggs.
The crisp, light meringue pairs beautifully with the soft cream and the tangy orange curd and berries, and it's cute to boot.
To make the meringue nests, I first whipped up a French meringue, made with sugar that has been heated in the oven first. Heating the sugar prior to mixing it into the egg whites ensures that the sugar dissolves into the whites properly and that you end up with a shiny, smooth meringue that is perfect for piping.
If you don't have a piping bag, you can simply spoon dollops of meringue onto a lined baking sheet and use a spoon to make a little well in the middle to hold the filling later on. But a piping bag fitted with a star tip makes these nests look extra adorable.
Once piped, I bake the meringues for 2 1/2 to 4 hours in a very low oven. Meringues are one of those foods that can be really heavily affected by external humidity, which explains the large variance in cooking time. The goal is to get the meringues completely dry without taking on any color. Once done, you should be able to easily lift the meringues off the baking sheet. They should feel light as a feather, and they should sound hollow when rapped gently with a fingernail.
Once the meringue nests are in the oven, you can make the orange curd. Orange curd, like lemon curd, is basically an egg yolk-based custard made with citrus juice instead of milk or cream. (Though in this recipe, I also add a splash of cream. This not only makes the orange curd a little less sticky, it also gives it a delicious velvety texturel.) If you've made custard before, you will definitely recognize the steps.
First, I combine orange juice and zest, heavy cream, and sugar in a saucepan and bring it to a bare simmer. (Of course if you prefer, you can use lemons instead.) While the juice and cream mixture warms, I beat the egg yolks and sugar until they're pale yellow and foamy. In my custard-making experience, beating the yolks until foamy is one of the most important steps, because it makes determining whether the custard (or the orange curd, in this case) is cooked a lot easier than other methods like clinging to the back of a spoon. I'll explain shortly.
The next step is to slowly whisk the scalded juice and cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to ensure that the eggs don't curdle. Finally, I pour the mixture back into the pan, letting the foam from the yolks rise to the top before returning it to low heat and cooking it while stirring constantly. As the mixture heats, the foam slowly dissipates. When all of the foam has gone, you know your curd has thickened to the correct consistency. Finish it off by removing the curd from the heat and stirring in cubes of cold butter.
The great thing about this dessert is that once the main components are made—and they can be made up to 5 days in advance—assembling and serving is a snap. I combine my orange curd with a bit of whipped cream to lighten it up, spoon it into the meringue shells, top with store-bought candy-covered Easter eggs and fresh currants (you can use other berries if you prefer), and it's ready to serve!