***********************************************What can I say, I love berries. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, boysenberries ... hit me with any berry you can think of - there's a high chance I will like it.
What does this have to do with Pavlova? Well, my friend, Pavlova is simply one of the best ways to deliver some berry love.
But that is just the berry mad part of me talking. Because, of course, Pavlova is more, much more, than just a delivery system for berries.
Named in honour of the famous Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, this meringue-based dessert is a delight in its own right. Sweet, light and delicate, there could not have been another dessert more aptly named after the ethereal Russian beauty.
What distinguishes the pavlova from normal meringues, is that beneath its thin, crisp shell, lies a soft, marshmallow-like center that literally melts in your mouth. Yes, you heard right, MARSHMALLOW. Another one of those things in life you can't ever get too much of.
If you want to get into the technical side of things, what makes a pavlova different from a normal meringue is the addition of cornstarch. This keeps the insides of the pavlova soft and moist, whereas the usual meringue has a sticky, chewy interior.
One issue, however, that I have with the otherwise perfect pavlova, is that it often tends to be too sweet. Unfortunately, this can't be solved by simply reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe willy-nilly. Even a tinkerer like me is wary of messing with the sugar proportions of a pavlova, because the high sugar content is necessary for its internal structure to hold.
The pavlova is therefore often paired with tart fruits like berries, kiwis and passionfruit, which goes some way towards mitigating its sugary-sweetness. However, nothing quite works the charm for me as having my pavlova with some deliciously sour lemon curd. Besides, since pavlova requires egg whites, and lemon curd requires egg yolks, the marriage of the two is not just gastronomically perfect but also happily convenient in not generating leftovers for my already over-burdened fridge.
There are some desserts that are just better home-made, and a Pavlova would fall in this category. You would not likely find an equal version in a bakery or restaurant, because a home-made pavlova is so delicate that its fragile crust will yield under the slightest pressure. It will simply not take to too much handling. You will also discover that once it is assembled, it will not hold together for more than a few hours, and is therefore best served immediately, and finished on the same day.
As SugahDaddy so wisely observed, the Pavlova is like a ballet performance, delicate and fleeting, to be enjoyed, and savoured, in the moment.
**************************************Recipe for Summer Berries and Lemon Curd Pavlova
(copyright A Spoonful of Sugah)
4 egg whites (120 grams)
1 cup castor sugar (200grams)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons cornstarch/cornflour
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger*
1 teaspoon lemon zest*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 130C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 18cm circle on the paper. (Alternatively, you can bake the pavlova in a oven-proof plate that can also be used for serving, so that you won't have to transfer it to another plate after baking. This prevents its crust from cracking from too much handling.)
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until frothy, then add cream of tartar. Beat until fully incorporated then begin to add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat to soft peaks, then once that happens, add vanilla extract and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. You know that the right consistency has been reached, when the egg white mixture does not fall out when the bowl is overturned.
Using a spatula, gently fold in the cornflour, zest, grated ginger, and lemon juice, taking care to distribute evenly but not overfold the mixture.
With a palette knife, spread the meringue over the circle drawn on the baking parchment, into the shape of a cake. (The sides should be slightly higher than the middle so that there will be a slight indentation in which to fill with cream and fruits.) Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the outside of is dry and turns a pale cream colour.
Turn the oven off and leave door very slightly ajar, to let the meringue cool completely in the oven (about 3 hours). The pavlova may sink and crack a little on cooling. **
(from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar)
4 large egg yolks (74 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (150 grams)
3 fl oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons=94 grams)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened) (57 grams)
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely grated) (4 grams)
Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.
In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)
When the curd has thickened, pour it at once into the strainer. Press it with the back of a spoon until only the coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest. Let cool complely to room temperature.
Whipped Lemon Cream
1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon curd
Using an electric mixer, whip whipping cream into soft peaks, then add icing sugar and vanilla extract, and continue whipping to stiff peaks. Fold in lemon curd gently.
Top meringue base with lemon whipped cream, spoon over some lemon curd, and top decoratively with 1 to 1.5 cups of mixed berries. Serve immediately, with remaining lemon curd.
*Another issue with meringue-based desserts, is that they can sometimes have a slight eggy taste and smell that can be a little off-putting. After all, meringues are nothing more than beaten egg whites. I find however that the addition of lemon zest and grated ginger is quite effective in preventing it from developing this eggy aftertaste, besides giving it a refreshing 'lift' on the palate.
**I have been asked by a friend, A, how to prevent a pavlova from sinking upon cooling. Letting the pavlova cool slowly in the oven is commonly done to prevent the pavlova from shrinking too much from the sudden drop in temperature. However, despite this being done, there might still be a slight deflation particularly in the center of the pavlova. From what I have read, this is normal, and not a bad thing since the cracks can be disguised with cream and fruit. The crack-free and sturdier 'pavlovas' which are sold at bakeries, are commonly not true pavlovas as such, but traditional meringues (without cornflour) which, because of its completely different texture, does not suffer from similar problems of shrinking/cracking.