When I was an exchange student in Belgium, my best friend was Hannah from Australia. Hannah told me stories of inside-out seasons (Christmas on the beach?! That could blow a Canadian girl's mind!), taught me important exchange-student life skills (like which Belgian beers were the strongest, and how to stuff your rapidly expanding exchange-student ass into your tiny pants), and introduced me the Australian delights of Tim Tams, Anzac biscuits, and Pavlova. I make Pavlova on occasion, and always think lovingly of my favorite Aussie, somewhere out there on the upside-down side of the world.
Pavlova is a traditional to Australians and New Zealanders that was apparently created in honour of the ballerina Anna Pavlova, when she toured in those parts. It is basically a delicate mountain of whipped meringue. After being baked under low heat, the outside shell gets crunchy, the top gets browned, but the inside stays chewy and soft - like creamy fresh marshmallow. It then gets piled high with softly whipped cream and fresh fruit. The result is dreamy, with the consistency of a cream-smothered cloud.
For a dessert with quite an impressive appearance (and taste), it is ridiculously quick and easy to create. All you have to do is beat some egg whites in a standing mixer with cream of tarter until stiff peaks form. Slowly add some sugar (Aussies use Castor sugar, which is very fine white sugar - I use regular white sugar and it does a lovely job), some cornstarch, a dash of vinegar (to stabilize the whites) and vanilla. Mound it all in into a circle on a greased and floured baking sheet, or pile it into a springform pan. The baking part takes the longest - it needs about an hour and fifteen minutes. While it is cooling, whip some cream (I add some sour cream, a touch of sugar, and vanilla - you could equally use cocoa and sugar for a chocolatey version), and slice some fruit. If you're using fruit that browns quickly, toss it in a splash of lemon juice. Top the meringue with a blanket of whipped cream, then decorate it with the fruit as you choose. If you've got the attention span, concentric circles are impressive looking. But a you can easily just heap it on, which I think is also attractive - particularly if you're using just one type of fruit, like raspberries, or pomegranate.
You can make the meringue up to two days in advance, wrapped or stored in an airtight container, but once topped with cream and fruit, it should be served right away.
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tarter
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 tsp vanilla, optional
2 tbsp sugar, optional
fresh fruit, sliced
1. Grease and flour a parchment-lined baking sheet, or a springform pan. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tarter in the large bowl of a standing mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating till it will hold stiff peaks. Beat in the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla.
2. Using a rubber spatula, mound the meringue in a circle on the prepared baking sheet, or into the springform pan. Either way, make the sides slightly higher than the center, to create a bit of a well for the whipped cream. Bake in center of oven for 1 hr 15 minutes, then allow to cool inside the oven with the door slightly ajar. The outside will be dry, and will be a pale, cream colour. The surface may crack, but the inside will be moist and marshmallowy.
3. Just before serving, whip the cream (adding 1 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp sugar, if desired). Pile the cream onto the meringue and top with the fresh, sliced fruit. Serve immediately.