This delightful spring dessert of meringues topped with strawberries and whipped cream is, oddly, unknown in France, at least not as schaum torte. The recipe stems from my childhood in Wisconsin, where schaum torte (‘foam cake’) was popularized by the large German-descended community. My mother sometimes made it with wild strawberries gathered by me and my brother in the fields around our house. Does this sound delicious? It is.
Schaum torte aux fraises / Strawberry schaum torte
When setting out to write this post, I searched the web for a French recipe for schaum torte — in vain. This was indeed a surprise. Why no schaum torte in a country where cooking is an art form and where dishes from around our globalized planet appear regularly on bistro menus? I did find a recipe called ‘pavlova aux fraises’ — but schaum torte predates the meringue-and-fruit pavlova, which was created in New Zealand after the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova toured there in the 1920s. The schaum torte had reached Wisconsin by the 1870s, brought by German immigrants, according to The Joy of Cooking.
So I am very happy to be able to add this strawberry confection as my little contribution to the French culinary repertoire. It’s simple to make, and fun. You whip egg whites and sugar until stiff, bake at a low temperature, slice a few strawberries, whip some cream — and voilà. I made a batch the other day to take our minds off the confinement, and the four filled meringues disappeared in two minutes.
Speaking of the confinement, we are now in Week 6 here in France and it’s starting to feel a bit long. We’re allowed out for an hour a day, to walk or shop for food, and we’ve been blessed by fine weather. Concerned to avoid a resurgence of the virus, the government recently tighted the rules, banning jogging during daytime hours, and the police have handed out more than 800,000 fines to people deemed to be violating the confinement orders. (At 135 euros per fine, that works out to nearly $120 million for the state treasury.)
I became the recipient of one such fine the other day when I went shopping and, on the way home, sat down on a bench. The three officers who honored me with the fine ignored my protestations that I was resting to catch my breath. ‘Mais non, Madame, they said. ‘You are taking a sunbath.’ As far as I knew, I was not breaking any rules. I had been out less than an hour, was within the allowed radius of 1 kilometer from my home and was bearing a signed and dated authorization form. When they said they’d send the fine by mail, I had to laugh — no mail had been delivered in weeks. But today the fine arrived.
I’m not planning to pay it. In fact, I have already written to contest the fine, which to my mind illustrates an unfortunate excès de zèle (over-enthusiasm) among the police during this difficult period. Numerous others have received unfair fines, like the woman I mentioned in a previous post who got fined for buying a single loaf of bread. Clearly we all want to help prevent the spread of the virus. And we shouldn’t be sanctioned unfairly.
Overall, in my view, the French government has done a good job in a difficult situation. There have been shortages of masks etc. but this is being rectified. Unlike in the States, where millions have lost their jobs and health coverage, France has national health insurance and a social safety net that works. But there have been hiccups. Last week, for example, there was an uproar among France’s large electorate of seniors — nearly 20% of the population is over 65 — when President Macron announced that vulnerable groups including ‘personnes âgées‘ (older people) would be kept indoors when the confinement is lifted for everyone else on May 11. He ultimately came to his senses and relented.
The good news is that the spread of the virus is slowing in France, one of the countries worst hit by the crisis. The bad news is that there may be a second wave. The borders are still closed, and we’ve been warned not to plan to travel abroad this summer. In this situation, we all need cheering up — and strawberry schaum torte just might do the trick.