Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summertime, and the eatin' is easy

It's official. I have a berry addiction. I buy berries by the pounds. They've replaced my beloved frozen yogurt/chocolate syrup milkshake as my after-dinner dessert. I buy strawberries and blueberries from the salad bar at work and eat them with a toothpick so they last longer. I neglect a planned brownie recipe and make pavlovas instead.  

Brownies? Oh, not till October.
A pavlova is a meringue topped with fruit and whipped cream. This one has a layer of light lemon curd between the meringue and the berries, which is key. It was convenient that besides being a very tasty berry vehicle, this is a very patriotic-looking dessert (even with the foreign-sounding name and its being the almost-official dessert of Australia and New Zealand).

There are several great things about this pavlova. Each of the components, by itself, is awesome. The meringue has a delicately crunchy crust that hides a chewy, marshmallow-like center. The lemon curd--lightened with scoop of whipped cream--is tangy, sweet, and creamy. The berries...well, I ate an alarming amount of berries while making this. I ate a lot Sunday evening while the meringue baked, and then I ate more on Monday evening as I was plating it. Then I ate some more while we watched fireworks... Finally, the whipped cream is slightly sweetened, and you really can't go wrong with sweetened full-fat anything.

What else is nice about pavlovas? Because they're assembled out of components, you can tackle the pieces separately, and you can do most of the work ahead of time. On Sunday, I whipped up my egg whites for the meringues while I prepped things for the lemon curd. By the time I shaped the meringues on the baking sheet and popped them in the oven, it only took a few minutes to make the lemon curd and then put it in the fridge to chill. (It takes about an hour and a half to chill the curd; the meringues take that long to cook and then sit in the oven, so it's easy to knock those out simultaneously.) The curd and the meringues can hang out until you're ready to serve, and then it's just a little whipping of the cream, and you're ready to put them together.

My, what soft peaks you have.
The meringues call for an interesting ingredient--white vinegar. Look at what it does to the dull soft peaks pictured above. Look up there. Now look down here:
Look how glossy they are now! (The sugar and cornstarch were added too, but the vinegar added the gloss.)
A few tips about beating egg whites. First, separate the yolk and white straight from the fridge (the chill keeps them more stable and easier to separate) and leave them out at room temperature for half an hour. A stand mixer (or at least a handheld mixer) fitted with a stainless steel bowl works best, but whatever kind of bowl you use must be very clean. Even a tiny bit of oily residue or egg yolk in the bowl can thwart your billowy efforts. Don't be scared though! I am no meringue pro, but see how much fun I was having!

Can you see me and our giant-looking kitchen?
You can make one giant meringue instead of four small ones, but I like to plate them individually--easier for serving and prettier for presentation. The lemon curd will keep for at least a couple of days in the fridge, and the meringues will keep that long too, wrapped well in plastic or an airtight container, on the counter or in the freezer.


Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries
Adapted from Gourmet

For meringues
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

For filling
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
4 cups mixed berries

Make meringue
Preheat oven to 300°F with rack in middle. Trace four 4-inch circles on a sheet of parchment paper. (These are guideline circles--they will grow in the oven.) Turn parchment over and put on a baking sheet.

Whisk together superfine sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.


Beat whites with a pinch of salt using an electric or stand mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. (See photo above.) Add water (whites will loosen) and beat until whites again hold soft peaks. Increase speed to medium-high and beat in sugar/cornstarch mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more. Add vinegar and beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes (longer if using handheld mixer).

Gently spread meringue inside circle on parchment, making edge of meringue slightly higher than center (the "crater" is for curd and fruit).
I use the back of a large spoon and a twirling motion to shape the craters.
Bake until meringue is pale golden and has a crust, about 35 minutes (inside will still be marshmallow-like). Turn oven off and prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Cool meringue in oven 1 hour.
They're just slightly golden.


Make lemon curd while meringue bakes:
It's that lemon zester again! BE CAREFUL!
Stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then add lemon juice and butter. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking, then continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Lightly beat yolks in a small bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup lemon mixture (It's important that the lemon mixture isn't too hot, or your eggs will scramble as you mix. That is not what we're going after!), then whisk into remaining lemon mixture in saucepan. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until curd is thickened, about 2 minutes (do not let boil). Transfer to a bowl and stir in zest. Chill, surface covered with plastic wrap or parchment paper, until cool, about 1 1/2 hours. (It helps to overestimate the size bowl you will need; you'll later be mixing in whipped cream to lighten the curd.)

Assemble pavlova:  
Beat heavy cream until it just holds stiff peaks, then fold 1/4 cup beaten cream into curd to lighten. Spoon lemon curd into meringue and mound berries on top. Serve remaining whipped cream on the top.
 
For scale, that is a dinner plate.