i’ve always been meh about meringues. the texture’s so dry and chalky and the taste so overly sweet that it felt like a dried out hardened marshmallow left to die a lonely death on the arid plains of some forbodingly airless planet. actually, now that i think about it, meringues resemble astronaut ice cream, but less awesome because they don’t come from the science museum or exist in space.
but… all of a sudden, the meringue has new meaning! i’ve always been a sucker for desserts involving fruit and cream and i have recently become acquainted with the fabulous and apparently sort of retro dessert known as the pavlova. oh, the pavlova – named for the ballerina anna pavlova and invented somewhere down under (both australia and new zealand claim ownership) – it elevates the lowly meringue to a shining pedestal for a magical combination of pure whipped cream and fresh ripe berries. no longer dry and chalky, the cream adds a light and airy feeling to offset the brittle meringue and the juices bursting forth from the fruit. no longer marshmallowy sweet, the unsugared cream and tartness of the berries temper the intense sweetness of the meringue to perfection. hooray! the meringue has returned with a vengeance.
so yes. pavlova. we were first introduced during dinner at frizzante and our relationship was sealed after our second encounter at rambling restaurant. my initial intoxication for this triple threat of a dessert has turned to a bit of an obsession, so i decided it was time to make my own. i started with this recipe from Joy of Baking, added some ginger for spice and flavor and kept the whipped cream unadorned with additives. these instructions are relatively similar to their very useful recipe (thanks joyofbaking!) but this is a pretty simple version in my own words. important parts are bolded, everything else is either an actually useful side note or an entirely useless personal musing. enjoy!
Pavlova! aka Ginger Meringue with Fresh Whipped Cream and Berries
What You Need
note: this makes one fairly large meringue. i increased recipe by 1/2 because i have a tendency to overestimate stomach capacity, and it made two shallow small pie-sized meringues.
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup heavy whipping cream
lots of berries! i love raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueblerries, but feel free to use whatever fruit you like
What You Do
1. separate the egg yolks from the whites and whip with a mixer until the liquid turns to foamy clouds that form light peaks when you pull out the mixing tools. in case you’ve never split yolks and whites before, there are two good ways to do so. a) break the egg and use the two shell pieces as cups to transfer the yolk back and forth as the white spills out into a bowl. if a piece of shell falls into the bowl, use one of the shell cups to scoop it up because the shell piece will bond to the rest of the shell and be way easier to pick up than doing so by hand. b) just learned this one – break the egg into a separate bowl and scoop up the yolk using your hand as a shovel. detach any clingy white bits between your fingers or with the help of your other hand.
2. preheat the oven to 300 º. the other recipe says 250 degrees but i’m impatient and have places to be, so i did 300 degrees for less time. it worked out fine. combine the ginger and sugar. the joy of baking recipe gives the helpful hint that it’s easier to use finely ground sugar or grind regular sugar in a food processor beforehand so you don’t have to wait as long for the crystals to dissolve.
3. mix the ginger and sugar, little by little, into the egg white mixture using the electric mixer. you want a smooth and not gritty meringue, so make sure all the sugar is fully absorbed. whip the mixture until it has enough weight and texture to form elaborate poufy designs in the mixing bowl (or until it ‘forms stiff peaks’ as they say in the baking world). you also should be able to flip the bowl upside down and have nothing spill out. magic!
4. fold in the vinegar and cornstarch until fully integrated, then scoop the meringue in a circle onto parchment paper. leave a depression in the center to hold your cream and fruit. i used a pie tin since i didn’t have any parchment paper, which meant a little scraping out of the tin. however, it also meant portability to transport said pavlovas in multiple directions around the state of massachusetts. so useful.
5. bake for about 45 minutes or until the outside gets all dry, hard, and crackly. let the meringue cool completely.
6. while it’s baking, use the electric mixer to whip the heavy cream into a deliciously airy yet squidgy bowl of yumminess. it’s so much better than whipped cream in a bottle, which has lots of scary chemicals (although potential for small moments of illicit fun). if you want, add some powdered sugar and/or vanilla extract for flavor, but i think the meringue and fruit add enough sweetness so it’s not necessary.
7. once the meringue has cooled, spoon your orgasmically delicious whipped cream on top in a big lovely pile. i often have the thought, especially when bored mid-flight, that it would be great to jump around on big clouds that would support my weight like a trampoline and not let me fall several miles to a very unpleasant death. similarly, it would be really freaking awesome to frolic around in a big lovely pile of fresh whipped cream. hmm. this is actually somewhat more realistic than the first option. let the planning commence…
8. now the fun part! depending on your current mood and aesthetic inclination, either artfully arrange your berries into a beautiful complex pattern or dump the whole lot onto the cream in a messy pile of awesome.
9. eat! and most importantly, save some for me!