Consider the egg…it can very well be called the chameleon of the cook’s edible toolbox. It can morph into many shapes and sizes: Round and roly poly when it’s hard boiled, and flat on its back and sunny side up…and of course folded and rolled as omelets and crepes.
In the pastry kitchen, egg yolks can lend a richness to custards and lemon curd, and act as a mediator, bringing thin liquid ingredients that are at odds with one another together to result into a thick, smooth emulsion. (A culinary alliance, if you will.)
And what of the egg white? It makes up in protein what it lacks in fat, and thus with a little bit of muscle power (or an electric mixer) and some air, it can be beaten and whipped into submission: heavenly billows of froth…peaks and valleys of white cirrus clouds. Meringue!
A Pavlova is a perfect way for an egg to strut its stuff and show what it can do. Named for the famed Russian ballerina, it is a meringue “cake,” light, delicate and crisp on the outside. With a tap of a fork or spoon, the fragile crust breaks into shards that reveal a center that is soft, sweet and marshmallowy.
The dessert becomes a springtime basket, lavished with dollops of slightly sweetened whipped cream and topped with a colorful array of fruit. It is perfect for Easter, and with a minor adjustment, it can work equally well for the Passover table.
5 large (150 grams) egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup (200 grams) superfine (castor) or regular sugar
1 tsp. white vinegar (or cream of tartar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract*
1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch (or potato starch if you are making this for Passover)
Preheat oven to 275 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Draw a 7 inch (18 cm) circle on a sheet of parchment paper. Turn paper over and place on a baking sheet.
Pour the vanilla and vinegar (or cream of tartar) into a small cup. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch (or potato starch) and sugar.
In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla extract and vinegar. Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the underside of the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)
Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees, and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp. granulated white sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Whip the cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla, beating the cream until firm. (Be careful not to overwhip–underwhipping is better than overwhipping.)
Mixed Fruit Topping
2 kiwis, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
When the meringue disk is cooled, place it on a serving platter. Mound the whipped cream over the entire top, concentrating on the well in the center. Arrange the mixed fruit carefully atop the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Serve immediately in large scoops.
*If you are observing Passover, double check your vanilla (which is often made with grain alcohol). You can substitute another kosher-for-Passover extract in place of the vanilla or skip it entirely.