Gorgeous spring berries are starting to appear in the markets around here. They are so wonderful to just eat right out of hand, or to add to salads, cereal, yogurt; but if you want to be a little bit decadent and yet not work too hard, here is a family favorite dessert, Pavlova.
I got this version of this classic dessert (named after a famous ballerina!) from an old dinner group friend, Rochelle Stenquist. Pavlova takes a bit of advance planning, but it's really so easy, and so very beautiful and delicious. It's a beautiful round of meringue that is crisp on the outsides, turning to a soft and kind of pillowy center, covered with a layer of softly whipped cream, then layered with gorgeous berries. As it sits, the meringue melts a bit into the whipped cream and softens. The combination is light, not too sweet, and so fresh and wonderful.
If you would like to be really decadent you could add a bit of lovely passion fruit curd, or lemon or lime curd before you layer on the whipped cream, but this is so simple and delicious as is. Later in the week I will post another "cheater" version that is fast and even easier (but this one is really the best).
what you will need:
5 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whipping (heavy) cream (or 1 pint)
Fresh berries, washed and very well dried, cut smaller as needed (peaches or apricots are nice, too)
Heat oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and sprinkle with powdered sugar to keep meringue from sticking. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beat until firm and shiny. Add in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla.
Using a spatula or a large spoon, spread the meringue in a circle on the baking sheet with the edges higher than the middle. Remember that it will expand up to 2 inches or so as it bakes, so leave some space!
Now here's the deal: the instructions are to put the meringue into the preheated 275 degree oven, turn down the oven to 250 degrees, and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Then leave it in the oven for a few hours to dry out. This is a great do-ahead for when you are very organized and not in a rush.
Unfortunately, for me most often Reality is that I am in more of a rush than that, having decided a little later than I should have to make a Pavlova. So what works out for me just about as well is to bake at 275-300 degrees for an hour or so until just barely the lightest hint of golden, then cool on the counter. Since it is best assembled ahead of time for a few hours, it is still a do-ahead dessert I think!
See? Just barely tinted golden (okay, light from my stove-top a little funky), but cracks and fissures are all just fine! Adds character!
Now whip cream to soft peaks (you can sweeten just a bit if you like, but it really doesn't need it), spread all of it to not-quite-the-edges of the meringue.
Now comes the really fun part! Arrange as many of your beautiful berries and/or pieces of fruit as you can possibly cram onto the surface of the whipped cream. Step back and admire your artistry. Keep refrigerated for a few hours until ready to serve. Heavenly.