I think it pretty much goes without saying that I wasn’t going to be allowed to show up to my parent’s seder tonight without one of these, but when my mother came down at the end of last week with both bronchitis and conjunctivitis in both eyes, did not consider this, perhaps, a sign from above that she would be given a pass on the thirteen-guest dinner tonight and insisted upon foraging ahead, she asked if I could attack the second dessert we’d decided upon–the mighty pavlova–as she wanted to wait until she was no longer contagious to start cooking. I thought that was mighty considerate of her, and of course, had been chomping at the bit to make it anyhow, so I didn’t mind.
Pavlovas are one of those things that I’d never heard of three months ago but have heard about almost weekly since. There was Nigella’s with passion fruit on her new show, Ina Garten’s mixed berry version and her subsequent mention that it would be included in her last meal on earth, no small feat for a woman known for starting every recipe with “beat a pound of butter in a mixer.” But the clincher was Shuna’s gorgeous guest-post on Simply Recipes a couple weeks back, and its step-by-step photos. What better to counterbalance the riches of thick swaths of whipped cream between layers of dead-serious chocolate cake but a giant meringue piled with fresh fruit? And why had I not thought to make this for Passover before?
I’ll spare you the history as you can read about the ballerina or was it the Aussies or New Zealand that devised this perfect dinner party dessert at countless other URLs, but I won’t shield you from yet another story of what a dolt I am, as what would this site be without a little self-mockery? In a classic case of not RTFM-ing, I emailed Shuna last week, begging our favorite eggbeater to let me know if that pavlova could be made with potato starch instead of cornstarch because the latter is not Kosher for Passover for reasons I cannot bear to get into? Shuna was terrifically patient with me, and did not once point out that it had already been mentioned in the comments that potato starch was a more than adequate replacement. What I should have asked the pastry chef, however, was for how long and at what temperature one should bake a full-sized round? Because that, that might have actually shaved several hours–and possibly even a temper tantrum, though I won’t admit to this–off my Sunday.
Ina Garten suggests a 4 extra-large egg white pavlova baked into a 9-inch round for one and half hours at 180, and a one-hour cool-down in the oven. Don’t learn this the hard way: it ain’t enough heat. The Joy of Baking, which after pleading emails to pastry chefs is my absolutely favorite online baking resource, suggests a four large egg white 7-inch circle at 250 for one and a quarter hours, and a full cool-down with the door ajar. I was still convinced mine wasn’t baked and popped it back for another 15 last night. It picked up a tiny bit of color early on in the baking, so I dialed it back 25 degrees, but in the end–this morning, mind you–I am mostly, fairly certain it is the proper texture inside, though I won’t really know until much later this evening. That proper texture, by the way, would be marshmallow and I dare you not to love it.
Despite the fact that her baking directions failing me, I’m still going with the Ina Garten inspiration of mixed berries and a raspberry sauce, but I use my own creation, which I consider just the perfect, best and easiest dessert sauce, especially if you’re the kind of person (ahem) who bakes a lot of flourless chocolate cakes. I can’t tell you how grateful we were that I’d set aside a couple miniature pavlovas for Alex and I to indulge upon, as it was pretty much my only reprieve in yesterday’s bake-athon. The tiny ones were perfectly cooked, of course, bloop-ed with whipped cream, a heaping spoonful of fruit sauce and some strawberries. It was perfect–light, crisp, the sweetness of the meringue balanced by the tartness of the sauce and the whipped cream softened the whole dish. If the full-sized one is half this good, I think I see dessert for my next ten dinner parties already lined up.
4 large (120 grams) egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup (200 grams) superfine (castor) or regular sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch, potato starch or arrowroot powder
Preheat oven to 250°F (130°C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7 inch (18 cm) circle on the paper.
Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.
In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar (if you didn’t use cream of tartar.) Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes.
Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)
Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)
Jaworski notes: You can make the meringue cake several days in advance. Just store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container. However, once the whipped cream and fruit are placed on the meringue, the dessert should be eaten immediately as the meringue will start to soften and break down from the moisture of the cream and fruit.
This is as good for desserts as it is over plain yogurt. Keep it refrigerated.
1 10-ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
3 tablespoons sugar
Puree the raspberries in a food processor, blender or immersion blender. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with three tablespoons of sugar, until it is heated through and the sugar is dissolved.
99 percent of the time, I find the consistency of this sauce to be perfect, as is. If you like your thicker, add between one-half and one full teaspoon of cornstarch, potato starch or arrowroot powder to thicken it, stirring to make sure it’s fully dissolved.
Cool the sauce.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whip the cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla, beating the cream until firm. Be careful not to over-do it, or might end up with a bowl of homemade butter.
Mixed Berry Topping
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
Mix these with 1/2 cup of the raspberry sauce (recipe above).
When the meringue disk is cooled, put it on a plate. Spread the top completely with the sweetened whipped cream. Add the mixed berries and sauce mixture, spooning them carefully into the middle of the pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Serve immediately in large scoops with extra raspberry sauce.