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Pavlova for the Holidays

The holidays seem to be all about eating—so I thought I’d offer a recipe to enjoy during your festivities. While traveling around Australia, I had several encounters with a really lovely dessert called a Pavlova, named for the great ballerina.

While Pavlova is massively popular all across Australia, where it is viewed as a fair dinkum Aussie creation, New Zealand also lays claim to this dessert. However, there is no definitive proof as to who really created it first. The main difference between Pavlovas in the two countries would be the topping: in Australia, you’d most likely see passion fruit, while in New Zealand, kiwi fruit would be a more common topper. (And it’s kiwi fruit, by the way, not kiwi – kiwi is a bird, or a nickname for New Zealanders – Americans may not care, but Kiwis do.) A nice combo of blueberries and sliced strawberries would be attractive and tasty, as would raspberries. Because it’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere as we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day, if fresh fruit isn’t possible, feel free to thaw out some frozen berries to top off this elegant confection. And Happy New Year.

Pavlova
Base:
4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch

Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/12 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
fruit (see notes)

Place oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large, clean bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Sprinkle the cornstarch and vinegar on top of the meringue and beat a bit more, until stiff again.

Now you make your meringue cake. Opinions differ as to how to approach this. You can put down a sheet of baking parchment and draw a 7-inch circle in the middle. You might also get a pastry bag and pipe a circle and then fill it with a perfectly even rope of meringue. I just guesstimate the circle size and spoon the meringue onto the baking sheet, spreading it into a circle of about the right size. Do what works best for you (that is, pick a method that makes it likely you won’t write this recipe off as too complicated). Also, baking parchment might make it easier to get the meringue off the pan. I have used it. I have also just sprayed a cookie sheet lightly with baking spray, and I’ve had it slide off with no trouble.

Anyway, whatever method you choose, you now have a circle of meringue, looking rather like a single cake layer and a little more than an inch deep, on your baking sheet. Put it in the oven and bake it for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the oven door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely before removing from the oven.

Set the meringue aside until just before you plan on serving the dessert. Then, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat to incorporate. Spread the whipped cream across the top of the meringue. Decorate with the fruit you’ve chosen, and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Notes: If you’re using passion fruit, you’ll need 10. For kiwi fruit, four or five should do the trick. For berries (blueberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries, blackberries), you need about a cup.

The meringue can be made a couple of days in advance. Once it is completely cool, put it in an airtight container and keep it someplace cool and dry.

It’s important that you don’t complete the dessert until you’re ready to serve it. The acid in the fruit will break down the whipped cream and the whipped cream will make the meringue soggy. If you don’t want to serve all 6 to 8 servings at once, you can either cut up the meringue and just add whipped cream and fruit as you serve it (not so great on presentation, but the taste is the same), or you can make a couple of smaller meringues.

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