I have been holding on to this post, impatiently, for that right moment. You know that moment when everything is aligned, the timing is perfect, people are waiting with baited breath and you just know the moment is right.
The moment in question is the one where spring arrives, with complete finality. Spring is lovely, if albeit short, and there is nothing quite like those first few days where the temperature is finally not cold anymore, all of nature aligns itself to start bursting forth and you simply know that you won’t have to deal with frost warnings for at least next four or five months.
Yeah, well, it’s May 18 and I’m still waiting for that moment.
And patience has never been my greatest virtue.
Screw it. I’m jumping in anyway.
So, inspite of spring’s inability to commit, I have finally committed to the pavlova.
For those of you that have been fans for a while, you’ll have to forgive me. I am fairly new to pavlova, having only made my first one last year.
For years I admired it from afar, thanks to the dreamy pavlova creations I would regularly spot in Donna Hay magazines and Nigella Lawson baking books. But I was always afraid to try one, which seems strange to me now, given that not a lot scares me when it comes to baking.
But you see, we all have our baking mountains to climb! I put my big girl apron on and climbed that pavlova mountain and haven’t looked back since.
As I recall, I made my first pavlova for Easter 2013 and I’ve made many since.
I simply adore the pristine glossines of egg whites beaten to meringue consistency and there’s something about going to bed at night knowing that you have a dessert tucked away in the oven (I like to leave the meringue in the oven overnight to cool completely) that just makes me happy.
I am especially partial to the pavlova you see pictured here because of the combination of strawberry and rhubarb, which is a quintessentially spring flavour for me (assuming I lived somewhere where spring actually ever arrived).
This dessert is based on this one, from Martha Stewart. I’ve added in strawberries for the pure pleasure of that flavour match.
I know a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of meringue but don’t be. It’s far more forgiving than you think. The keys to successful meringue, and subsequently pavlova, are to ensure that your mixer bowl and whisk are glean and grease-free. The best way to ensure this is to rinse them with water and some lemon juice. The lemon juice will ensure that any lingering grease is washed away. Thoroughly dry your bowl and beater, as well. Any dampness on the surfaces will make it more challenging for the egg whites to build in volume.
When your piping or mounding your meringue on to the baking tray (I use parchment on the tray), add a few dabs of meringue in each corner, under the parchment, to hold it in place on the baking tray. This ensures the paper doesn’t move around as you pipe or mound your meringue on the tray.
What I loved about the Martha Stewart recipe was the idea to create a valley in the centre of the pavlova to hold your cream filling. I use this trick every time.
Finally, keep an eye on your meringue as it bakes to avoid it colouring. Unless your oven is perfectly calibrated (most ovens aren’t), you may have a hot spot or your oven may run at a higher or lower temperature than the dial indicates. Checking on the meringue will ensure that it doesn’t turn golden or colour too much.
If you are a pavlova veteran, my hat’s off to you. If you’re a newbie like me, just jump right in.
Maybe, if enough of us do, we will convince spring to finally commit!
For the rhubarb/strawberry topping:
1 pound rhubarb, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
1/2 granulated sugar
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
I like to quickly stew rhubarb on the stove but it’s important you keep an eye on it as it goes quickly!
In a 10 or 12-inch skillet, heat the water and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the rhubarb pieces and cook covered for 5 minutes. You will note that the rhubarb starts to soften quickly. You should be able to pierce it with a fork but it should still hold its shape.
Remove the rhubarb from the heat and leave it covered until it cools completely.
Once cool, remove the rhubarb from the liquid and combine with the strawberries. Set aside to spoon on to the finished pavlova.
For the pavlova:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon), divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Combine the sugar and the cornstarch in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together egg whites, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt on low speed until very frothy.
Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add sugar mixture, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, 12 to 15 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl halfway through.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, either pipe or mound the meringue into a roughly 8 or 9-inch circle. With the back of spoon, create a crater in the centre of the circle (this will hold the cream filling after the pavlova is baked).
Bake the meringue for 2.5 hours (it should be solid on the outside and appear dry). Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in the oven overnight to cool.
When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, beat the cream and vanilla extract until you have stiff peaks.
Remove the pavlova from the parchment paper and place the pavlova on a serving tray. Spoon the whipped cream mixture into the centre of the pavlova.
Top with the reserved strawberry/rhubarb topping (if you want, you can spoon the juices over as well but remember that this will soften your pavlova quickly so try not to allow too much juice on top of the pavlova).
Serve immediately and enjoy!