Picture the sweetest person you’ve ever met; or better yet, look up the word sweet in the dictionary and guess what? You’ll see a picture of my aunt Bernice!! Do you see her? No? Not in your dictionary? Well, maybe it’s just in my mind, but I think you get the picture. She is just a honey of a person, always having a kind word, a smile and a bit of warm encouragement to everyone who passes her way.
Bernice and Uncle Alvin ran a large Wisconsin dairy farm where I spent many a summer day roaming the corn fields, collecting eggs from the henhouse and helping my cousins round up cows at day’s end from remote pastures, herding them back to the picturesque red barn. We played hide ‘n seek in the barn loft – piled high with newly mown hay, snuck strawberries and raspberries, still warm from the summer sun, in Bernice’s lovely garden and indulged joyously in these wonderful, light-as-a-feather, melt-in-your-mouth Schaum Tortes.
Schaum Torte is just a funny German word for a baked meringue dessert. It seems that every nationality has something similar; the Russians* have their Pavlova, Italians call them Meringues, in France it’s Dacquoise, etc. In Wisconsin, Schaum Torte is often a celebration dessert – it’s simple, yet beautiful and addictingly delicious!
So back to sweet Bernice ……. she was the “queen” of Schaum Tortes in our family! My mom occasionally made them and although mom’s Schaum Tortes tasted wonderful, they looked a bit ho-hum compared to Bernice’s perfectly swirled, hollow centered, white towers; crying out to be filled with mounds of freshly whipped cream and bright crimson berries (if my cousin, Jane and I didn’t swipe them all in our garden pilfering!) So you can see why, for special family occasions, Bernice’s assignment was often Schaum Tortes.
To this day, each year when strawberry season arrives, I make Schaum Tortes and think fondly of my aunt. You can call them whatever you want (personally, I think Pavolva sounds much more sophisticated!) but when you see that farm stand with local berries or a pick-your-own sign, grab a bucketful and be sure to treat your family/friends to this fabulous dessert!
*Author’s addendum – oops! A reader set me straight and I so appreciate it! It seems that Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand when the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, visited there!
- 6 egg whites from large eggs
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ¼ cups sugar divided
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 250˚F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. With a Sharpie type permanent pen, trace 6 -3" circles on each sheet of parchment paper.
- With an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the egg whites, water and salt till the mixture begins to stiffen and forms a point when beater is pulled out. Continue beating and add, very slowly (over 2-3 minutes), 1 cup sugar, cream of tartar and vinegar.
- Add the other 1 1/4 cups of sugar, again very slowly, and vanilla. Beat for 10 minutes on medium speed.
- Drop large spoonfuls of meringue onto the circles on prepared sheet pans and hollow out the centers with a teaspoon or follow directions in step 5 for piping.
- For piping, snip off a corner of a large zippered plastic bag or decorating bag. Place a large (I use a Wilton 1M) decorating tip into the corner opening. Spoon about 1/2 of meringue into the bag and twist the top closed. Starting in the center of each circle and moving in a circular pattern fill in each circle with meringue. Continue piping around outside edges, forming walls. I usually go around 2 or 3 more times, depending on how tall I want my Schaum Tortes. Use your finger to smooth out the top where the piping stops.
- Place in preheated oven and bake 1 hour, then turn heat off and leave Schaum Tortes in oven for another 1/2 hour. Remove and store in an airtight container. Believe it or not, these guys also freeze beautifully! I've kept them in the freezer for several months, when thawed you'd never know they had been frozen.
I like to dollop freshly whipped cream in the centers and top with fresh strawberries or other berries, sweetened with a touch of sugar. You can do it the other way around too, spooning the strawberries or other fruit into the hollow centers and topping with dollops of whipped cream. Sometimes we also put ice cream in the center and berries on top. As you can see, there's no set way to serve these, but do expect rave reviews!
Adapted from this fun old-timey cookbook produced by the ladies of the Lutheran church in my hometown during the Second World War.