I love participating in blog events because they offer a great excuse to experiment and try new desserts that I would probably never make otherwise. Having said that, I was originally a little lukewarm on this month's Sugar High Friday theme, "meringues." I've never liked those dry, chalky meringue cookies that are sold in plastic tubs (surely the bane of dieters everywhere), and I couldn't get excited about making a gooey meringue pie for just the two of us.
However, after a little more thought, I hit upon the idea of making a pavlova--the beloved Australian dessert consisting of a meringue shell filled with whipped cream and luscious fresh fruit. I've never made a pavlova before, and I can't believe I waited this long to try it--this dessert was amazing!
If you've never made a pavlova before, the first thing you need to know is that it's not your typical meringue. Remember my griping about rock-hard meringue cookies, or gooey meringue pies? The pavlova is the best possible combination of these two extremes. It's like when two ugly people produce a gorgeous, angelic baby: you're not quite sure how it happens, but you say a silent prayer of thanks all the same. Made from a simple whipped egg-white base, the ideal pavlova has a crunchy, crisp exterior and a marshmallowey interior that quickly melts in your mouth. It's not sticky, not chewy, and not cloying. It is, in a word, perfect.
Pavlova shells are shaped like shallow bowls, and then filled with whipped cream and topped with fruit. I think it's most common to serve pavlovas with berries, but I had some mango puree I wanted to use up, so I decided to put a tropical twist on my dessert. Instead of a plain vanilla meringue I flavored it with coconut extract. The freshly whipped cream was also flavored with coconut, and was only very lightly sweetened since the meringue itself was so sweet. The mango sauce provided a nice tart note to balance out the sweet tropical coconut flavor, and the whole dessert was topped with juicy raspberries fresh from the market. I cannot think of a better dessert for a lazy summer evening.
The full recipe can be found after the jump.
Pavlova recipe modified from Ina Garten
Yield: one 9-inch pavlova or four 4-inch pavlovas
For the pavlova:
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp coconut extract
For the whipped cream:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp coconut extract
For the mango sauce:
9 oz mango pulp, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cover an insulated baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cake pan or small bowls as a guide, draw either a 9-inch circle or four 4-inch circles on your parchment to use as a guide when forming the pavlova.
Place the egg whites and salt in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin to beat the egg whites on medium speed. Once they are foamy, stop the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Turn the mixer back on and beat until soft peaks form. Start to add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until all of the sugar has been added and your whites form thick, glossy, firm peaks.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the cornstarch over the whites. Add the coconut extract and fold the starch and extract in, taking care not to overwork and deflate the meringue. Spoon the meringue onto the circle(s) you drew on the parchment, and smooth it into a circular shape, taking care to make the edges slightly higher than the center.
Bake on low heat for 60 minutes (small pavlovas) or 75 minutes (large pavlova), checking several times to make sure the pavlovas aren't taking on too much color or cracking. If they are, turn the heat down and crack the oven door slightly. The pavlovas should have a crisp shell when done, but they should have only the most faint beige color. Turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool completely in the oven, another 1-2 hours.
To make the mango sauce, place the mango puree and the sugar in a saucepan over low heat and simmer to reduce the puree, for about 10 minutes (depending on how liquidy your puree was to start). I use frozen puree so there's usually quite a bit of water to evaporate. If it's chunky use an immersion blender to smooth it out, or pass it through a fine mesh strainer. Set it aside to cool to room temperature. If made far in advance, bring it to room temperature before using.
To make the whipped cream, place the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat it on medium. When it starts to thicken, add the powdered sugar and coconut extract and beat until firm but smooth--don't overbeat or you'll have lumpy whipped cream! If made in advance, refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble, place the pavlovas on a serving platter. Mound the freshly whipped cream in the center of the pavlova, then top with a generous spoonful of mango sauce. Finish with a ring of fresh raspberries on top.
Thanks to Melly at One Messy Kitchen for hosting the theme this month! Check her blog to see the full roundup of meringue posts on the 25th.
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