Custardy Shortbread Bars With Boozy Meringue Topping

March 29, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

Topped with fluffy Italian meringue, flavored with port wine and dusted generously with cinnamon, suspiro de limeña is a rich pudding that tastes like the offspring of dulce de leche and custard. As a kid, I considered it the Peruvian dessert par excellence. It was our reward for behaving well at Peruvian restaurants. If we ordered very Peruvian dishes (i.e., nothing from the kid’s menu), didn’t complain about how spicy the food was, and spoke in Spanish throughout the whole meal, then we'd each earn our own individual cup of Peruvian heaven.

The name of this dessert translates to “the sigh of a girl from Lima.” It originated in the 19th century with a woman named Amparo Ayarza, who was the wife of a poet named José Galvez. Allegedly, Galvez took a bite of her creation and declared that it was as sweet and as light as the sound of a young city girl's sigh, daydreaming about her beau.

I believe that this dessert’s name is more of a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the exasperating process of making it. Those who have taken it upon themselves to recreate this dish know that the real sighs come from having to constantly stir a pot of sweetened milk for over an hour until it achieves the right consistency. In the 1800s, this would have been achieved by combining fresh milk and refined white sugar—both luxuries back then. However, 20th-century advances in food production made this dessert a lot more accessible to the average Peruvian. The modern version of this culinary "sigh" is made with two ingredients that have forever changed the way Peruvians and other Latin Americans cook: evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. —Carlos C. Olaechea

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Peruvian Shortbread Bars Are a Cross Between a Pie & a Cookie—but Way Better. —The Editors

  • Cook time 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Makes 9 bars (or 16 smaller bites)
  • Crust
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Filling
  • 1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup pisco or brandy
  • Italian meringue
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup port
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Ground cinnamon, for dusting
In This Recipe
  1. For the crust, preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan. Line with parchment paper with about 2-inch overhand on each side. Butter the parchment paper as well. Set aside.
  2. Place butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until uniformly mixed. Add flour all at once. Pulse until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. Dump the mixture into the cake pan and press evenly into the corners of the pan.
  3. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown. The crust will seem fairly soft and underdone. Don’t worry. It will get baked again. Set aside and let cool.
  4. For the filling, lower the oven's heat to 350°F. Add both milks and vanilla extract into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly for 45 minutes to 1 hour. You can step away from the stove for a couple of minutes at a time in the beginning, but as the mixture thickens, you will need to be at the stove constantly stirring to avoid burning. The mixture is ready when it's beige in color and you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw your spoon across it. At this point, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat.
  5. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the pisco or brandy. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the mixture on top of the cooled shortbread crust that you have set aside.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the mixture is firm and lightly golden brown on top. Set aside and allow to come completely to room temperature. You can also place it in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 days until you're ready to top it with Italian meringue and serve.
  7. For the Italian meringue, place the sugar and port in a small saucepan. Boil over medium high heat until sugar completely dissolves. Turn off burner to keep the syrup warm.
  8. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. With the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. With the the mixer running, slowly pour in the warm syrup in a thin stream. You will see the egg whites get shiny and turn a light lavender color. Keep beating and pouring in the syrup until it is all incorporated into the meringue.
  9. Transfer the Italian meringue to a piping bag fitted with a fluted tip. You can store the meringue for up to a day until you are ready to assemble the dessert.
  10. To assemble: Using the parchment overhang, carefully remove the bars from the baking pan and transfer onto a large cutting board. Slice off the browned sides (these are unattractive and can taste bitter). Cut into even squares. If you want bigger squares, divide the tart into 9 even pieces. For smaller bites, you can divide it into 16 pieces. Artfully pipe the Italian meringue on top of each square. Traditionally, there is up to 2 times as much meringue as there is filling. However, you can add as much or as little as you’d like. Generously dust with ground cinnamon.
  11. You can store the squares in the refrigerator for up to a day until you're ready to serve them.

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  • Carlos C. Olaechea
    Carlos C. Olaechea
  • siemiatk
  • Erin Ayles
    Erin Ayles
  • Jenny
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.