Remember a few weeks back when I posted the recipe for lemon-ricotta crostata with mascarpone? As much as I love that recipe, it irked me that it leaves you with four egg whites. But now I feel better because I know exactly what you should do with those whites. Make a pavlova. Make this ethereal dessert ~ named for a Russian prima ballerina ~ with its crisp meringue shell, marshmallow middle, billows of whipped cream and topping of macerated berries. Let’s start with the meringue: amazing feat of egg white, sugar and air, fairy tale food. My devotion to meringues stretches back to my childhood days and trips to Pasticceria Marinara in Rome. No matter what other temptations lay behind the glass display cases ~ custard-filled cream puffs, sparkling fruit tarts ~ I always succumbed to the same thing: two oversized meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate. I was practically incoherent after I finished it, but that never stopped me. Meringue also figured (ever so briefly) in one of my favorite movies from back in the day, Four Weddings and a Funeral: Scarlett (admiring a bride walking down the aisle): Isn’t she beautiful? Fiona: Scarlett, you’re blind; she looks like a big meringue. The movie came out in 1994, less than two years after my own wedding, in which I, too, truth be told, resembled a big meringue in my creamy white silk dress with its voluminous skirt and buttoned-up train (a meringue designed by Carolina Herrera, but still). What can I say? I loved it. Given my long-standing affection for eating (and wearing) meringues, I’m surprised I never made a pavlova before now. I’ve made plenty of meringue cookies over the years. But a giant meringue, I now know, is better; exuberant, over-the-top, a thing of beauty (at least the pastry version), especially when crowned with whipped cream and jeweled fruit. When you slice into it with a cake cutter, the meringue shell crunches, then collapses gently onto its soft insides, followed by the cream and the berries. And it’s easy. The recipe I used for the meringue shell comes from one of Nigella Lawson’s early books ~ How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food. People are wary about meringue (will it collapse? will it crumble?) but this one gave me no trouble at all. After it had baked for 1 hour at 300 degrees, I turned off the oven and let it cool completely, as directed. It came out beautifully crisped and cracked on the surface, and soft and marshmallowy inside. At serving time, I topped it with good cream, whipped at the last second, and fresh strawberries that I had macerated in lemon juice and sugar. I tossed on a handful of blueberries for good measure. My family of four polished off an entire half of it within minutes. I had to rush what was left over to my neighbor’s to prevent us from piggishly eating the rest. But that’s pavlova for you; easy to make, easier to eat. Four egg whites. A trip to your favorite pasticceria, a stroll down the aisle.
Elegant, simple and yet over-the-top, a pavlova is the perfect dessert in which to showcase spring and summer berries. A meringue shell is topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. The dessert is said to have originated in New Zealand (or Australia, depending on whom you listen to) and is named for Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova.
Pavlova differs from straight meringue in that it contains cornstarch, which yields a crispy shell and a soft, marshmallowy interior. Be sure to use fresh, local strawberries rather than those giant cottony ones from the supermarket. This recipe is adapted from one in 'How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food,' by Nigella Lawson.
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pint fresh, in-season strawberries
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
- Handful of fresh blueberries
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and draw a 9-inch circle on it. Flip the parchment over and set it back on the baking sheet.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft, satiny peaks form. Beat in the 1 1/4 cups sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the meringue is stiff and glossy, like marshmallow cream. Sprinkle the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla over the top and mix briefly to combine.
Mound the meringue onto the parchment, spreading it out with a silicon spatula to the edges of the circle. Smooth the top. Set the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Bake for 1 hour; then turn of the oven and leave the pavlova in it to cool completely (at least 2 hours).
Remove the stems from the strawberries and cut them lengthwise into quarters (or halve them if they are small). In a small bowl, mix the strawberries with the lemon juice and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and let macerate, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator, until you are ready to assemble the pavlova.
At serving time, gently pry the cooled pavlova from the parchment and set it on a large platter. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a hand mixer, whip the cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar until stiff (I always use a chilled bowl and chilled beaters to get the cream to whip faster). Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pavlova. Spoon the strawberries and some of their juices on top of the whipped cream, and scatter the blueberries on top. Serve immediately.