Pavlova is a heavenly meringue dessert with a crunchy outer layer and a soft, marshmallowy interior topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. The dessert is said to have originated in honor of the Russian ballerina, Ánna Pávlova, who visited New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. Both countries claim to be the inventor of this dessert, and not that I want to contribute to the controversy, but since my husband grew up in New Zealand I stick to the version that Kiwis were the creators.
Most often pavlova is prepared as a large, single dish and then servings are cut and shared. As far as I can tell, just about any fresh fruit or combination of fruits can be served in a pavlova. I prefer to make mini-pavlovas from Nigella Lawson’s recipe from her cookbook “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and top them with berries. These look beautiful and I find the presentation more manageable in individual serving sizes. Also, if any of meringue shells crack in the preparation process, repairs can be easily covered up with the other ingredients without ruining the entire dessert.
This recipe calls for beating egg whites, a pinch of salt and baker’s sugar, a very fine sugar also called caster sugar, and folding in corn starch, white vinegar and vanilla flavoring creating, as Nigella describes “glowing, satiny, snowy meringue.” Next I spooned the meringue in circular shapes onto parchment paper lined baking sheets and created a “bowl” shape in the middle to fill with whipped cream and fruit later. Then the shells bake 30 minutes in a warm oven and are left in the turned off oven for an additional 30 minutes. The shells are a very light brown color when they come out of the oven to cool.
For our pavlova filling, Scallywag and I ventured out to our “secret spot” in our neighborhood to pick wild blackberries. I should have worn long sleeves and pants to avoid getting scratched by the thorns. The end of August is the ideal harvest time for blackberries, which are considered by some as a pesky weed in the Pacific Northwest. Scallywag ate more berries than he picked, but this has become an annual tradition in our family.
The rest is simple. To ensure the meringue shells are crispy, just before serving we whipped fresh cream, dolloped spoonfulls onto the shells, added the blackberries and garnished each mini-pavlova with mint leaves from our herb garden. The combination of the sweet meringue, plain whipped cream and fresh fruit is a combination of textures and flavors that is a luxurious dessert in any season.
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