While I made the suspiro de limeña second, it was the dish I decided on first – partly because it sounded yummy, but honestly, mostly because of its name. “Suspiro de limeña” literally translates as “the sigh of a woman from Lima,” and was apparently so named by a Peruvian poet because “like the sigh of a woman, it is soft and sweet.” I find it endearingly amusing when some detail of a region’s culture conforms ridiculously well with silly stereotypes about that culture, and, well, I’m pretty sure if I had asked people to guess what area of the world would have a popular dessert with a name origin like that, Latin America would have topped most people’s lists. (“Papas rellenas” is also a slightly amusing name, provided you’re childish enough to think it’s kind of funny that one of the Spanish words for “potato” is also the Spanish word for “pope.” Which, to be fair, I am. Hee hee, I made stuffed popes! But still, I think “suspiro de limeña” has them beat in the entertaining names contest.)
“Soft and sweet” is certainly an accurate description of suspiro de limeña – especially the “sweet” part, since it is essentially caramel covered in meringue – but Peru has its own twists on both of those components, especially the meringue. See for yourself!
While making suspiro de limeña takes a little time and effort, it doesn’t take a whole lot of ingredients:
First up was making the bottom layer of the suspiro de limeña – what Peruvians call manjar blanco. (It’s very similar to dulce de leche, so if you already have a good dulce de leche recipe, or want to buy it pre-made, you could use it in this recipe instead.) So I poured the sweetened condensed milk and the evaporated milk into a saucepan, put it over medium-low heat (about a 4 on my 1-10 scaled stove), and stirred.
Any time you’re making something pudding-y, it tends to involve long periods of constant stirring, which is why I don’t make pudding very often. I am not the most patient person. But by gum, I’d made up my mind that I was making this dessert, so I kept up a nice, constant, slow stir with my right hand for something like an hour and twenty minutes while accomplishing very important tasks with my left hand.
After eighty minutes of stirring and impressing strangers around the world with my excessive knowledge of Tolkien, Pratchett, and Broadway minutia, the milk mixture was thick enough and lightly browned enough for me to move on to the next step. I removed it from the heat temporarily while I separated my three eggs.
Incidentally, I am a weirdo who really enjoys separating eggs. It’s strange, because I’m generally a fairly jittery and uncoordinated sort of person who really ought to be bad at egg-separation, but for whatever reason, gently tipping a yolk back and forth between eggshells is one of the few situations in life where I somehow manage to be all relaxed and smooth and competent. Perhaps I need to start carrying eggs around with me everywhere and start separating them whenever I get stressed. I bet that would make job interviews much easier, except for the part where the interviewer would be deeply confused as to why I was meditatively pouring egg white onto his or her desk. Oh, well – it was almost a good idea.
Anyway, once the eggs were separated, I poured a little of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the yolks, whisked that together, and then poured it all back into the main portion of the mixture, along with the vanilla. Then the pan went back onto the heat for just a couple of minutes more (while I continued stirring constantly). Once the eggs and vanilla were thoroughly mixed in and the mixture was warm enough that the yolks were most likely safe to eat, I distributed the manjar blanco as evenly as I could among six small glasses. (Martini glasses are ideal for this, but I only own two martini glasses, so I put the other four portions in little dessert-cup thingies.) The manjar should roughly half-fill each container.
I stuck my six little optimist-or-pessimist tests in the fridge and moved on to the meringue. Now that the whites had had a little time sitting out and getting to room temperature, I poured them into a large mixing bowl, and then realized that I hadn’t put any cream of tartar in my photograph at the beginning. Now, you can totally make meringue without any cream of tartar, but I do like it in there (it makes it fluffier, in my experience), so I decided I’d go ahead and have yet another ingredient picture where one ingredient had wandered off. Once I’d added my cream of tartar, I used an electric egg beater on high to whip the egg whites until soft peaks formed. (“Soft peaks,” for those of you who don’t do the meringue thing often, means that when you pull the beaters out of the meringue, it forms points which droop over. “Stiff peaks” means it forms points that stay upright.)
It was now time to prepare the “twist” on the meringue that I mentioned earlier. In a small pan, I mixed together the sugar and the port wine. (While all the suspiro de limeña recipes I read specifically called for port, you could almost certainly substitute any reasonably sweet, full-flavored red wine here. If I hadn’t found a very cheap bottle of port at Trader Joe’s, I almost certainly would have made such a substitution, because port can be on the pricey side.) I heated that up over medium-low heat, stirring just until the sugar was mostly dissolved, and then let it simmer for another five minutes or so. (Be careful not to overcook this – you’re just trying to turn it into a syrup, not cook away any of the sweetness.)
Once it had simmered enough to turn properly syrupy, I removed the wine syrup from the heat. At this point, I apparently decided that all my coordinated smoothness while separating eggs needed to be counterbalanced by being a complete imbecile.
So, you may remember that two weeks ago, I splashed myself with hot oil while frying Moldovan plăcintăs, and last week, I grated the skin off my finger while preparing Seychellois Creole rice. You may also remember that I joked after the latter injury that, at this rate, I’d probably better be pretty careful this week if I didn’t want to injure myself even more severely and even more idiotically.
Yeah, so, when I pulled the spoon that had been sitting in boiling wine syrup for the last several minutes out of the pan, it started to drip everywhere. I didn’t have a good place to put it down, so in an effort to get it to stop dripping enough that I could carry it to the sink, I decided to blow on it a little bit to help the syrup congeal. I held the spoon in front of my face in order to do so, and then somehow (I still can’t figure out how) managed to fumble my grip on it just enough to bonk the edge of it against my mouth. That would, again, be the spoon that had been submerged in boiling liquid up until a few seconds earlier.
So, yeah, I’m now missing a few layers of skin off the middle of my lip. It’s super attractive. I’ve spent the last few days drinking through straws because anything at all acidic touching my lip smarts like the dickens. On the bright side, the suspiro de limeña itself is not at all acidic, so I’m able to eat it just fine! (And my burnt lip already looks and feels quite a bit better today than it did a couple of days ago, so that’s good. There’s still a very obvious burnt patch that keeps getting all scabby and itchy, but it’s both less conspicuous and much less painful than it was at first.)
Anyway, once I was done with my weekly adventure in Injuring Myself in Staggeringly Stupid Ways (I’m barely joking when I say that next week I think I’ll be looking for recipes that involve no heat or sharp implements at all, because apparently I can’t be trusted with those things), it was time to fold the hot wine syrup into my beaten egg whites. I dribbled it in a little at a time (while trying to balance an ice pack on my face, because, again, I am an idiot), beating well after each addition.
You might think that you’d end up with pink meringue, but you really don’t – the final result is just very, very faintly pink-tinged. Once I’d added all the wine syrup, I kept beating until the meringue was nice and glossy and formed stiff peaks.
Now, at this point, I could have just scooped the meringue in big dollops onto the glasses of manjar blanco, but I felt like being fancier than that, because – as you already know – I’m in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo. (Assuming, that is, that being in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo mostly involves sitting around a house in the Midwest in my pajamas. Fancy!) So instead, I scooped some of those big dollops into a large Ziploc bag, sealed it shut, snipped off a corner using a pair of scissors, and topped each glass with a crazy mass of meringue curlicues. Then I topped those crazy masses with a delicate dusting of cinnamon.
(I was pretty proud of that delicate dusting, insofar as it took a bit of creativity to pull off. See, my jar of cinnamon has quite large holes, which means that cinnamon really doesn’t come out of it in anything resembling a “dusting” so much as a “big sploosh.” So instead of using it directly or trying to sprinkle it by hand, I got the idea to pour a little cinnamon into a tea strainer and then shake that above each of the dessert cups. Boom, delicately dusted like a BOSS!)
Once they’d all been cinnamon-ified, they were ready to eat!
This may be the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. Like, diabetic-coma-inducing sweet. Both components are very sweet foods on their own, and when you add them together, the result is almost overwhelming.
Which is not to say they’re not delicious, because they really are, but a little goes a long way! Those are not particularly large portions, but I found that I could only eat about half of one at a time; they’re just so very sweet and so very rich that you really don’t need a lot. (Of course, that’s just me – the family member with the biggest sweet tooth is pretty much in love with these and wants to eat them all the time.) I especially liked the port wine meringue – the wine flavor isn’t strong, but it’s just present enough to add a depth and richness to the meringue that’s really, really yummy. I can imagine adding the wine syrup to meringue in other dishes, too. (And I definitely did a lot of spoon-licking from the meringue bowl.)
I probably won’t make these again anytime soon, but only because I don’t have the patience to make desserts involving long periods of continuous stirring very often. I don’t think there’s much I’d change when and if I do make them again – perhaps I might try adding some additional twist of flavor to the manjar blanco – maybe a salted caramel version? That could be interesting!
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup port wine
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
cinnamon for dusting
Stay tuned – I’ll draw the next country later tonight!