Postre Chajá

The final dish of my November sojourn into Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisine is Postre Chajá, a dessert unique to Uruguay and famous in that country. And what a way to go out with a bang! The dessert involves a layer of sponge cake or pound cake sandwiched between meringue, berries, whipped cream, and covered with a buttercream frosting. My mom remembers it being frozen and individually-wrapped in tin foil – so that’s what I did, though it can also be made as one large dessert and cut into slices to serve.

There appear to be quite a few variations on the theme, different order and repetition of the layers, and many of the pictures make it look like they have crumbled meringue on the top as well. This is my mom’s recipe that she had used to make chaja once previously, and she specifically remembers having it in Uruguay with strawberries (though many other online recipes mention peaches as the main fruit). I’ll have to try it again when we have nice ripe strawberries or peaches available.  But there was no lack of sugar in the other components, so it balanced out ok even with the less ripe November berries. Here’s what the final frosted product looks like;

Postre Chajá
4 egg whites
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Gradually add vinegar and 2/3 c. sugar while still beating. Then, by hand fold in the remaining 1/3 c. sugar and vanilla. Trace two large circles or 12 small ones (about 3.5 inches diameter) on a parchment paper lining a baking sheet. Spread the meringue evenly around to make flat circles within your tracing. Bake at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes. This didn’t make a hard meringue in my oven, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to actually be a crunchy meringue or not. Tasted good, regardless.

Buttercream frosting:
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
5 egg yolks
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. brandy

Boil sugar, water and cream of tartar for a couple of minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling well. Beat egg yolks in a mixer, and gradually add the syrup, beating until cool and thickened (about 10 minutes). Add well-softened butter in small portions to the egg yolk mixture while beating. When I got to this point, it wasn’t quite smooth, so I added a bit more powdered sugar to stiffen it up a bit. Then add brandy, and just try not to lick the bowl clean…

Other ingredients:
Pound cake or sponge cake – 6 slices
Strawberries or peaches, sliced
2 c. sweetened whipped cream

To assemble the postre, place 6 of the meringues on a baking sheet and make room in your freezer to place it when you’re finished. Add a cake layer to each meringue. Arrange the fruit over the cake, and top with a large spoonful of whipped cream. Add the top meringue and press down lightly to stabilize the stack, it should stick together pretty well with the whipped cream. Then cover the whole thing with a thin layer of buttercream frosting. Freeze well, then wrap individually in aluminum foil and keep in the freezer.  Remove from the freezer at least 30 minutes before serving so that it can start to thaw and will be easier to slice and serve.


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