Each Easter, I search for a beautiful spring dessert that's light, fruity and, most important, beautiful just like the season and the holiday. While clicking through various dessert slideshows on Food Network, Bon Appétit and Southern Living's websites, I saw that there was one thing they all had in common -- each included a pavlova.
What exactly is a pavlova? It's a giant meringue topped with sweet whipped cream and fruit. And there are several variations where the meringue is flavored, or topped with a chocolate whipped cream instead of a plain whipped cream. Although the decoration process is simple, the preparation and hands-on cooking process are a bit challenging, but certainly doable.
Making meringues is not an easy task. You must have patience and must be completely focused on each step. One mistake and your meringue won't form properly. But if you follow all the steps and pay close attention to every detail, your meringue will be perfect.
After years of looking at pavlova recipes during the spring, I finally decided to make one. Ina Garten's Mixed Berry Pavlova is a great recipe to use for your first one. It's a plain meringue topped with a simple sweet whipped cream and raspberry sauce with mixed berries.
The first step in making the pavlova is to place four eggs on the kitchen counter and bring them to room temperature. Then, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare the baking sheet. Place a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) on the baking sheet. Set the baking sheet aside, and once the eggs are at room temperature, separate the whites from the yolks and place the whites in a large mixing bowl with a pinch of kosher salt. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high until they begin to thicken; this will take approximately one to two minutes.
Next, gradually incorporate one cup of granulated sugar while beating the egg whites on high. As the sugar blends with the egg whites, the whites will firm up and form shiny peaks. You want the egg whites to stick out from the whisks and hold their shape.
Now sift two teaspoons of cornstarch over the egg whites, then add one teaspoon of white wine vinegar and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Gently fold these ingredients into the egg whites. Once they're fully incorporated, pour the mixture on top of the baking sheet, then spread to form a nine-inch circle. It will be about the size of a Frisbee.
Bake the meringue in the preheated oven for 90 minutes. After the allotted cook time, turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven to cool for another hour. It's crucial that you don't open the oven door. Meringues are temperature-sensitive, so you don't want to release any heat during the cooking and cooling time.
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As the meringue cools in the oven, prepare a raspberry sauce that will coat the mixed berries. Add a half pint of fresh raspberries, half a cup of sugar and a quarter cup of water to a saucepan. Once you bring this mixture to a boil, turn down the heat and let it simmer for about four minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor, then add a cup of seedless raspberry jam and one tablespoon of brandy or a framboise liqueur. Blend everything together, then stick the sauce in the refrigerator to cool.
Just before the meringue is finished cooling, prepare the whipped cream by blending a cup of heavy whipping cream with one tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The whipped cream should not be too thick; it should be slightly runny.
As soon as the meringue is done cooling, invert the disk onto a plate, then top with all of the whipped cream, followed by the mixed berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries) tossed in a half cup of the raspberry sauce.
The pavlova will be hard and crispy on the outside, but soft, sticky and sweet on the inside. You'll find yourself picking pieces off of the crispy shell -- each piece just melts in your mouth. Once you crack open the shell of the pavlova, the whipped cream and berries will collapse into the meringue, so you must serve and eat it immediately.