Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pavlova- Heaven on a plate

Hasn't been a whole lot of baking going on around here. Not lately. Not many desserts have been coming out of the kitchen at The Little Lake House and I need to change that. Last night I was watching my way through my stockpile of DVRd cooking shows- things I save and watch when The Chef isn't watching tv, like Nigella Lawson and Laura Calder. He just doesn't "get" foreign women. 

Anyway, Nigella was cooking with things she had in the pantry and freezer- using up things basically. She is quite a thrifty gal actually, I was surprised at some of the things she had tucked in the freezer. Chicken bones, because she obviously makes her own stocks, odds and ends of vegetables for casseroles and egg whites- frozen in zip top bags in twos. She had thawed egg whites to make a pavlova and I just HAD TO make one.

If you have never heard of it, a pavlova is a classic dessert created in the early 1900s in honor of the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. It's quite simply, meringue baked until crisp and dry on the outside and tender and marshmallow-like on the inside, topped with whipped cream and passion fruit or berries. I am going to make mine just slightly different, using what I have on hand, so it will be a pastry cream instead of whipped cream, topped with mango chunks and blueberries, with a teeny hint of booziness for fun.

There are just two of us here, so I usually make miniature versions of things, when I can, and that's also the case this time. I just need 2 egg whites for a smaller meringue, so if you make this for guests or your family, be sure and double the ingredients. Of course, you can use the traditional whipped cream instead of pastry cream also. Plan on one cup icy cold heavy whipping cream to make enough fluffy cream to cover the top.

Making meringue is not difficult. Most importantly, you have to be sure the bowl you are using is absolutely grease-free, so use glass or metal rather than plastic. Adding a touch of cornstarch adds some stability to the structure of the meringue and so does the teensiest bit of vinegar I add. Another important step is adding the sugar. You don't want to add it too soon or the egg whites may not reach their fullest volume, but you also want to be sure you have plenty of time for the sugar to dissolve as you finish beating, so you don't have crunchy bits in the meringue. Rubbing a dab between your finger and thumb to check for smoothness is a great way to tell if the sugar is dissolved. You will feel it if it isn't. 

Make sure to spread the meringue mixture out onto parchment or waxed paper. If you spread it onto a sheet pan you may not be able to get it off after it's baked, and if you grease the pan, the meringue will shrink up and not be attractive at all. Spread it out as evenly as possible and use the back of the spoon to create a swirly "rim" so the filling will not run all over. 

Classic Pavlova

2 egg whites, room temperature (reserve the yolks)
tiny pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Prepare the pan by lining with a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Using a plate or small pan as a guide, draw a circle on the paper, about 5-6 inches in diameter for a two egg meringue, or about 9-10 inches for  full size 4 egg meringue. Turn the paper upside down so you can still see the circle but won't be spreading the meringue on the pencil marking.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and continue beating until sugar is dissolved and meringue forms stiff, shiny peaks. This takes about 2 minutes.

Sift the cornstarch over the egg whites and add the vinegar and vanilla; fold in lightly. Pile the meringue onto the paper and using a spoon, spread and shape the meringue into a circular shell. Remember to build up a slight rim.

Bake for about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and DO NOT REMOVE meringue! Let it cool completely in the oven, at least an hour. Peel off the paper and place on serving plate. Top with cream and fruit.

Pastry Cream

1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon butter

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. 

Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring to milk in completely. Pour into bowl, cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface. Chill completely before using.

Now, I'll let you in on a little secret. Pastry chefs the world over will cringe at this idea but hey, it works perfectly so here goes- use a whisk to combine all the ingredients in a large microwave safe container. Cook on high one minute, whisk; and repeat until mixture is thick and smooth, checking every 30 seconds after 2 minutes. It took 2 1/2 minutes and came out perfect- no lumps!

Boozy Fruit

1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 cup mango or peach chunks
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon Chambord liqueur
lemon zest
sugar, if needed

Combine the fruits, liqueur, zest. Add a touch of sugar if needed. I used frozen fruits and let them thaw so they would be a bit softer and juicer than fresh. Pile the fruit on top of the pavlova and cream. Serve immediately.

Oh my goodness..... this dessert..... is heavenly. The meringue is so delicate and ethereal. As you break that crisp crust the interior is tender like a marshmallow. The cream and fruit kind of become part of the meringue after a short while, and it's just sooooo delicious. You can use almost any fruit you like. I had these in the freezer and they were a great combination.

A few final notes:  I had a little trouble with the waxed paper this time. Might have been crummy quality paper, but it stuck to the baking pan and the meringue more than I expected. A silicone liner might be a better option if you have one. I need to get one!

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