The beauty of pavlova is that it is a dessert in contrasts – simple, yet dramatic, rustic, yet elegant and polished with a crispy melt in your mouth texture. As unique as this dessert is, so is the romantic tale behind its creation. Said to have been inspired by a costume of Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1881-1931), while touring Australia and New Zealand in 1926. The meringue shell is symbolic of her tutu with the cream filling representing the mesh on her costume. I was smitten by the world of ballet as a child and any dish named after my childhood heroine made it an iconic superfood; any meringue resembling a Pavlova a suitable substitution. The fact that it was delectably sweet and creamy was an added bonus.
Adaptable with a variety of fruits, we chose to use peaches, at the peak of ripeness, pan roasting them to caramelized perfection. We added a few blackberries, both for contrast in color and flavor. We added a little sugar, cinnamon, fresh ginger and a touch of Kirsch, which makes any fruit dish that much better.
The blackberries are sprinkled with a little sugar and Kirsch, and heated and mashed lightly before using.
This filling provides the ‘creamy’ balance to the crispy meringue shell. Nothing screams creamy more than mascarpone and whipped cream. This alone would make me want to come back for more! Quick and easy to make, the five ingredients are whipped to perfection in a matter of minutes and can be refrigerated until ready to use.
When making meringue there are a few rules of ‘kitchen chemistry’ to follow to assure your egg whites take on the air needed to form glossy, billowy peaks. These rules actually excite many a baker, feeding our slightly persnickety love of preciseness and order. The whites should be fresh and not too cold. Everything that comes in contact with the egg whites must be completely dry, clean and free of oil. Plastic bowls are not recommended as they can absorb oil from previous use. Beating of the whites should start slowly with the mixer speed maxing out at medium. The acids in the cream of tartar and vinegar encourage the proteins to bond and reach their full volume. Pasteurized whites must have an acid added to them. Adding the sugar after beating the whites until foamy, and in a gradual, steady stream not only gives sweetness, but also adds structure, helping the foam to bond and the whites to stabilize.
The meringue shell can be as dramatic or rustic as you like, depending upon how you choose to form it. You can make individual pavlovas, as we did here or one large shell. We drew 4″ (10 cm) circles on the parchment so the individual meringues are uniform in size. Whether you are comfortable with a piping bag or just learning to use one, meringue is great start as it is forgiving and easy to work with and makes the shape a bit fancier. You can also use a spatula to smear equal amounts of meringue to the desired shape and size.
Each and every time I make pavlova, I am taken aback by how dramatic and cool this dessert is. A crispy melt-in-your-mouth meringue shell, filled with a luscious mascarpone cream and smothered with seasonal fruit. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Enjoy!