Thursday, May 7, 2009
I’m certain that when Anna Pavlova visited New Zealand in 1926 she was more concerned with the quality of her ballet performances than of the desserts she consumed. Fortunately for us, a local chef troubled himself with the later and created a dessert in her honor that consists of a pillow of meringue, topped with whipped cream or lemon curd (or both) and finished off with a scattering of fresh fruit. Best of all, it looks terrifically impressive and is perfect for company, but it’s also completely manageable if you’re willing to commit to a multi-step dessert.
I was willing to make such a commitment for a recent Sunday afternoon meal. However, my only company was the boyfriend and he thinks – or at least pretends to think – that everything I make is terrifically impressive (another one of the many reasons I keep him around). In the absence of guests to impress, I went ahead with the Pavlova recipe because really, when have I ever let the absence of an audience stop me from making something delicious?
And the Pavlova was delicious. It’s truly an exercise in varied textures. The crunch of the outside of the meringue contrasts with its marshmallow-like interior - achieved through slow and low cooking in the oven - and the creamy tartness of the lemon curd plays off the firm sweetness of the fresh fruit topping. All of these components come together to make not only an enjoyable mouthful, but also something beautiful to look at. And if you look closely, you may be able to imagine the ballerina’s tutu that inspired that pillow-like base.
The next time around I may add a little more sugar to the curd or use Meyer lemons as the tartness actually turned my tongue raw. Or maybe next time I will stop at one or two helpings instead of carrying on to three or four. Either way, your choice. I’ve included the recipe as it was printed in the April issue of Gourmet.
Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
1 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
3 eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
3 T cold water
1 t white vinegar
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/8 t salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 t grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream
4 cups mixed berries
Preheat oven to 300*
Trace a 7-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper cut to fit your baking sheet. Turn the parchment over and place on the baking sheet. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed to soft peaks. Add the cold water and beat to soft peaks again. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and add the sugar and cornstarch mixture one T at a time. After the all the sugar has been added, beat for one minute more. Add the vinegar and beat for approximately five minutes until the eggs hold stiff peaks. Use a spatula to spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Shape a small crater in the middle by forming the edges higher than the center so you will have a place for the filling. Bake for 45 minutes until the meringue turns a tan color. Turn off the oven and prop open the door with a wooden spoon. Cool the meringue in the oven for an hour.
Whisk the egg yolks together in a small bowl and set aside. Stir the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and add the lemon juice and butter. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for one minute longer, whisking constantly. Temper the mixture by adding a 1/4 cup of the lemon and butter mixture to the egg yolks in a small drizzle, whisking constantly. Whisk the tempered egg yolks back into the pan with the remaining lemon mixture. Reduce the heat to low and stir constantly for about two minutes longer, until the curd has thickened. Stir in the lemon zest and transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd so a skin does not form and chill until cold 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Beat the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Use a spatula to gently fold 1/4 cup of the whipped cream into the lemon curd. Spread the lemon curd over the crater in your meringue and pile berries on top. Serve with the whipped cream to cut the tartness of the curd.