Friday, April 26, 2013

Strawberry Pavlova

Pavlova, named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, is a show stopper.  Constructed of a meringue base topped with luscious cream and the baker's delight of toppings, it requires little to no introduction.  If ever there was a dessert that speaks for itself--exquisite in presentation and decadent in sweet goodness--Pavlova fits the bill as a literal feast for the eyes and taste buds.

But here's the thing--despite it's undisputed wow-appeal--it's also surprisingly simple to create!  Beyond baking up the beautiful meringue base with its perfect texture contrast of a crisp exterior and light/fluffy/melt-in-your-mouth interior (my new obsession), there's little more involved than whipping up sweetened cream and adorning with your favorite garnish to reach Pavlova destiny.  And it's a delicious finish that will serve any special occasion (or not) perfectly.  My "occasion", in fact, was simply the eager desire to make this dessert again after having first made it several years ago and being inspired by the various recipes I encountered recently.

Now that strawberries are in season, I chose to let them shine atop my Pavlova and bring another taste of Spring to the table.

So here's to sweet, decadent, Spring treats--and lots of Happy Eating!

Strawberry Pavlova

4 large egg whites, at room temperature 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sweetened Whipped Cream, recipe follows
Fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 9-inch circle on the paper, using a 9-inch plate or cake pan as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. (This way you won't get a pencil mark on the meringue.)

Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven for at least 2 hours up to overnight. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Invert the meringue disk onto a plate and spread the top completely with sweetened whipped cream. Combine the strawberries and a generous sprinkling of sugar to coat the berries lightly. Let them sit and macerate for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, as they develop their own juices. Spoon the berries carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Serve and enjoy!

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm.
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten


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