Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pavlovas are no longer the bane of my existence

I adore meringue. I don't remember how my love affair with egg whites and sugar began, but meringue is probably my number one dessert. I like lemon meringue pies, ile flottante (soft meringue clouds floating on a sea of custard, also known as oeufs a la neige), maracons (egg whites, ground almonds and sugar sandwich cookies), and macaroons (with coconut), but I think my favorite version is the pavlova.

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Ánna Pávlova. Essentially it's a cake with a light crust and a soft sweet marshmallow center. It's a great way to use up extra egg whites and it's theoretically a low-fat dessert since there's no butter involved, though serving it with whipped cream tends to negate that health benefit.

I hadn't make meringue or any other dessert in years until we decided to buy a KitchenAid mixer last year. We bought the smallest, cheapest model we could find (the white one) since we thought it would be a good appliance to have, but we didn't think we would use it that much - until we tried it. That mixer could make dessert on its own - which is a problem in that I now routinely make dessert.

I first made pavlovas when the rhubarb/strawberry season started last year. My husband loves rhubarb and strawberry - it reminds him of his grandmother, so every spring he asks me to make rhubarb+strawberry desserts. It's one of the few things he asks me to make, since he's very proficient in the kitchen, but for some reason rhubarb and strawberries are my domain.

I started with a strawberry-rhubarb compote with vanilla and cardamon. Super easy to make and lasts for days in the fridge, though go easy on the cardamon since it's a strong spice. It's very good over ice cream or angel food cake, but I knew it would go particularly well on a pavlova.

Meringue to me isn't hard to make. For some reason I've never had a problem whipping egg whites into shape with the trusty mixer. It's the baking part that drove me batty over the past year. I've made them crunchy on the outside (as opposed to delicately crispy) but so gooey on the inside that we needed a knife to cut into them and chewing them was almost impossible (think consistence of saltwater taffy). They've been undercooked so they're marshmallowy, which is still tasty but not the consistency I've been going for. Usually they're also too brown, when they're not supposed to take on any color. But I think I've finally got the technique down, thanks to the comments at Simply Recipes - Pavlovas - seems like I need to reduce the heat by 25 degrees and bake at least 1.5 hours. I think it was closer to 2 hours with the hot weather we've been having on the East Coast. Now let's see if this is what it takes to overcome the inconsistent results that have been plaguing me.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote with Vanilla & Cardamom
From Fine Cooking magazine

4 cups 1/2-inch-thick sliced rhubarb (about 1-1/4 lb.)

1/2 cup granulated sugar; more to taste
6 Tbs. fresh orange juice; more to taste
3 Tbs. honey
1/4 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 small vanilla bean
3 cups hulled and thickly sliced strawberries (about 2 pints)

Combine the rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, honey, all the cardamom, and salt in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel 3-qt. saucepan. With a paring knife, slit open the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife, and add the seeds and the scraped pod to the saucepan.

Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Simmer until the rhubarb releases its juice and becomes tender but still retains its shape, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the strawberries and simmer until they start to soften and the rhubarb breaks down slightly, 1 to 3 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Make an ice bath by filling a larger bowl with ice and water. Chill the compote over the ice bath at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until completely cool, 10 to 15 minutes. Discard the vanilla pod. Taste the compote and add more sugar and orange juice, if needed.

Yields about 4-1/2 cups


Jennifer said...

Those Kitchenaids are AWESOME to have in the kitchen! They beat egg whites in NO time. I figure I can build up my biceps by lifting floral arrangements-no need for a whisk and a chilled copper bowl.:)

Pavlovas are definitely tricky-but once assembled, they are beautiful!!!!

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