Tuesday, July 31, 2012

double decker berry pavlovas

As a general rule, I am in no way a daredevil. I always turn my car off when I'm pumping gas. I don't cut the tags off my mattresses. I count my purchases before I get in the '15 items or less' line at the grocery store. I walk the straight and narrow.

But on this day, my friends, I mustered up every ounce of courage I could find and took a risk to beat all risks: I attempted to bake a Pavlova (for the first time!) on a hot, HUMID, scattered t-storm, summer day. I know...from Model Citizen to Wild Child. It's a slippery slope.

Anyone who's ever made this featherlight treat, or its first cousin, meringues, knows the countless warnings that come with each recipe: baking these on a humid day will most certainly lead to 'weeping' or 'beading' of  moisture on the finished product. So why take the risk?? Two reasons. One, after extensive research, I found several convincing articles stating that the amount of sugar, the rate at which you add it, and the total baking time are far greater determiners of the final texture than the weather. Two, this dessert was not meant for just any occasion...it was for an Olympics opening ceremony party. Go big or go home!

And truthfully, what better dessert for a London-based parade of nations celebration than this? With origins in New Zealand or Australia (depending on whom you ask!) and a name inspired by a famous Russian ballerina who claimed England as her home, Pavlova is the perfect multicultural sweet treat. Add billowing, fresh whipped cream, ruby red strawberries, and sweet blueberries, and you now have a patriotic-colored dessert that is just about perfect for cheering on Team USA.

Back to the recipe. The taste was phenomenal with the richness of the brown sugar and the lovely essence of vanilla playing perfectly off the light cream and berries. And the texture...oh my, the texture...consisted of a light, tender, crispy exterior and a chewy interior. In other words, heaven.on.a.plate.

Note: The original recipe calls for meringues baked in three 8" cake pans, resulting in one large, tiered Pavlova. I opted to pipe individual-sized rounds on a baking sheet. Also, in the spirit of London's famous red buses, I went with a double decker presentation rather than the three-layered variety.

Double Decker Berry Pavlovas
Yield: 8-10 servings

1 cup superfine granulated sugar*
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup egg whites (from 5-6 large eggs), at room temperature

2 lb strawberries, trimmed and quartered
1 lb blueberries
2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 275°F. Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking mats or parchment paper.

Pulse the sugars and cornstarch in a food processor until well combined. Stir together vanilla and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Increase speed to medium-high and add the sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more. Add the vinegar mixture, then beat at high speed until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. Spoon meringue into a pastry bag and pipe into circles (about 3 inches in diameter), creating a slightly higher brim around the perimeter to hold the whipped cream and berries.

Bake until the meringues have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch, about 45 minutes-1 hour (insides should still be marshmallow-like). Turn oven off and prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Cool meringues in oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, toss berries with sugar and let stand at room temperature until ready to use (up to 1 hour). Prepare the whipped cream by beating the cream, sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks hold.

To assemble, place 1 meringue on each plate and top with a large dollop of whipped cream followed by a spoonful of berries. Repeat with a second layer.

*Can be made by processing regular sugar in a food processor until fine and powdery, about 45 seconds.

Adapted from Epicurious


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