Steampunk romance is tricky. I generally want to like it more than I actually do. From a genre romance perspective, it seems like it would be a powerful combination to add a fantasy or science fiction element to alternative history: all the atmosphere of a historical with none of the rigidly defined social conventions or ultra-precise historical reckonings (in theory, though this book, Gossamer Wing by Delphine Dryden, adhered to some typically Victorian social conventions and it worked very well).
The problem seems to be that the loosey-goosey nature of the steampunk subgenre lends itself to a mix of science fiction and fantasy, blending pseudoscience with clearly fantastical elements resulting in murky world-building. The ones I have liked, this one by Dryden, and Prosperity by Alexis Hall (out later this month), seem to decide between a science-heavy worldview and a magic (or fantasy science) worldview. Dryden’s offering is more science-based. Hall’s is more mystical. Both work equally well.
Gossamer Wing is a humorous, fast-paced, sexy romance that flips the traditional adventurer-solider-spy/bluestocking pairing on its head. The action-packed adventure undertaken by Charlotte and Dexter is well-balanced with a marriage-of-convenience romance plot. Charlotte’s spymaster father tries to distract her from the ongoing grief of her first husband’s death at the hands of a French spy by interesting her in a mission in France.
Dexter is known as the legendary Makesmith Baron. Not only has he made much of the equipment Charlotte uses to fly her personal dirigible, the Gossamer Wing, he may be able to solve a problem with an underwater base the British and Americans hope to utilize in their ongoing cold war with the French. By enacting a temporary marriage, Charlotte’s father hopes Dexter can keep Charlotte safe (though in reality Charlotte ends up keeping Dexter safe most of the time) and keep their cover intact as honeymooners vacationing in France.
Charlotte is delightfully independent and capable. She has education, training and wits. She reminds me a bit of Miss Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. She’s not completely averse to violence, but she, like Dexter, mostly thinks her way out of tight spots. Speaking of Dexter, he is quintessentially tall, dark and handsome, but also a raging geek, in true Dryden fashion. He’s also more emotionally intelligent and more sexually experienced than Charlotte and it’s him driving their relationship to a large extent.
I adored both Charlotte and Dexter and will hope to catch glimpses of them in the rest of the series. If all the books in the Steam and Seduction series are as good as Gossamer Wing, I will be happy to say I’ve finally found a steampunk romance series worth reading.
I suspect that you will be quite skeptical when I tell you what’s in this. See, it has some to my attention that an awful lot of my favorite people avoid both gluten and dairy. And when it comes to my desserts, well, they’re pretty much full of both gluten and dairy. Think people are 70% water? Not me! I am 70% heavy cream. The rest is flour.
I’m pretty sure that’s true. Yep.
So when the running joke endearments between the hero and heroine in Gossamer Wing took a turn for the food-related and the little gem “fruit be-decked meringue” popped up, well, I knew that was 1) perfect for the book and 2) something all my Twitter buddies can eat!
I actually made two versions of this dessert, the one pictured here which is tropical fruit, whipped coconut milk and meringue cups and a version of the British dessert Eton Mess, which is normally fruit, whipped cream and broken up meringue cookies. Either one works, but the cups photographed better so that’s what you get here. Check out my Twitter feed for the Eton Mess version if you’re curious. If you do want to try piping your own meringue cups, here’s a little video I made showing how I went about doing that.
If you don’t have three hours to spend waiting for meringues to dry out in the oven, you can make those ahead of time and keep them in the freezer. And meringue cups are available in some grocery stores. That takes this from an almost four hour project to a 10 minute one. Just cut up your fruit, whip your coconut milk and you’re on your way. Oh, and resist the impulse to sub in whipping cream for the coconut milk. It’s really quite, quite good for a simple little thing.
3 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 can unsweetened full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
8-12 ounces tropical fruit, chopped (I bought an 8 ounce pre-cut tub from Whole Foods and supplemented it with a kiwi that I cut up myself)
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. On a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie tray, draw 6 circles approximately 3″ in diameter by tracing a biscuit cutter, drinking glass or other appropriately sized object with a pencil. Flip the parchment paper over so pencil doesn’t get on your cookies.
2. Using hand mixer, whip egg whites on medium-low until frothy. Turn up mixer to medium and whip until soft peaks form. Add superfine sugar and vanilla. Whip on high until they form firm, glossy peaks.
3. In a piping bag fitted with a large star tip starting the center of one of the pre-traced circles on parchment, pipe first a circle, then a little wall to make a meringue cup. See the video above if these instructions aren’t clear.
4. Bake for 1 hour at 200 degrees. Turn the oven down to 175 degrees and bake for an addition 3 to 4 hours or until meringues easily lift from the parchment paper without sticking.
5. Whip the coconut milk on high in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes or until fluffy while the meringues cool.
6. Layer fruit on top of meringue cups and whipped coconut milk on top of the fruit. Serve immediately.
Disclosure: Delphine Dryden and I are friendly on Twitter.