Sexiest Dessert in the World – PAVLOVA

Elegant, lithe, graceful—a beautiful and famous ballerina dancing the Dying Swan, or perhaps the tragic bewitched White Swan Queen. Now imagine a dessert that would embody the lightness of the dancer in the air.

That was the challenge for pastry chefs when inspired by the greatness and celebrity of Anna Pavlova, (1881-1931) one of the most famous ballet dancers of all time. She was the first ballet dancer to tour the world, including Australia and New Zealand in 1926, to adoring crowds. In one of those countries, a chef created a dessert that would be worthy of her, drawing upon the lightness and elegance of the classic French confection, meringue.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I am constantly thinking about creating desserts that address some of the dietary issues people experiencing due to various medical conditions, while retaining the quality, the beauty and the tastiness of the desserts we present in this blog. My friend, Yael Segal-Ruder child was diagnosed with celiac disease so she is on a gluten-free diet. What can be better than a cute, sweet and light dessert, like pavlova, that Yael can personalize to her child’s taste. Yes. This is it.

To make the long story short I have prepared this dessert for Yael and wrote the post for her blog, titled “Hope it Will Rain”. Isn’t this a great title? Yael, I wish you lots of rain for Israel and happiness and joy for your family and friends. Your blog reflects the beauty of the country and the abundance of delightful vegetables, which you use so masterfully to create great looking, and I imagine great tasting dishes. Keep up the good work.

A pavlova is a cookie-like meringue dessert, with crunchiness on the outside and soft, chewy and moist in the interior; befitting its namesake. Who wouldn’t love to top that off with fresh fruits, whipped cream, chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, roasted/stewed fruits and more (although not all at the same time)?

Some people claim that the shape of the pavlova is supposed to resemble the tutu worn by Anna Pavlova, with the whipped cream the netting of her skirt. Another story holds that the dessert was invented first, and someone commented, “It’s as light as Pavlova” bestowing her name on the creation. In any case, the pavlova quickly became a hit in both Australia and New Zealand, and later around the world.

The story of pavlova is extended in Yael’s blog; so please make a visit there and let me know how you like the story and the dessert.

I knew nothing of this history when I first encountered the pavlova but I knew we were perfect together. Meringue desserts were also a classic part of my Hungarian upbringing. I loved nibbling on meringue cookies as a child and I’ve never stopped. In Hungary, they are often made with nuts, (i.e. hazelnuts or almonds) but no other filling or indentation for toppings.

What’s more, pavlovas are easy to prepare, need a minimum of time in a heated kitchen, and are light on the digestion. Simple and versatile, they are a splendid summer dessert. Depending on the toppings you use, it can be a low-fat or fat-free dessert as well.

I love the Black Swan Queen Pavlova, topped with the Black Swan’s seductive chocolate mousse and brightened up a bit with the red raspberry decorations (See the photos in Yael’s blog) to smother the pure white meringue of the White Swan. The bright Lemon curd and Gingered Peach Pavlovas are also great looking and wonderfully tasting. My favorite is a simple and classic presentation of Mixed Berries on Chantilly Cream. While piping the meringue onto a baking sheet is traditional, I prefer using a muffin or cupcake pan for easy, attractive pavlova packages.I’ve been playing around with pavlova variations, and have prepared four for presentation. See two recipes here, and two at Hope it Will Rain.

PAVLOVA

All the pavlova meringue recipe bases are the same, except in some cases chopped, roasted almonds are added.

Ingredients:

4 egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup caster (fine) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Pinch of salt
Method of Preparation

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating constantly until it becomes thick and glossy.
Add the cornstarch with the last 3 tablespoons of sugar.
Fold in the vanilla and the vinegar and mix it for 10 seconds.
Spoon the meringue either on jelly roll pan covered with buttered parchment paper, 1 inch apart; or use a muffin pan and either butter the muffin pan or place a silicone muffin cup into each unit. The meringue should be higher than the muffin cup. Make indentations in the middle of each pavlova with the back of a spoon; this is where the filling will be placed.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the muffins. It has to appear dry and crisp outside. DO NOT open the oven door for at least for the first 15 minutes of baking.
Turn off the oven and open the oven door. Cool completely in the oven. The meringue (pavlova) may sink during cooling, but this is fine.
Serve with various fillings. See suggestions below
Note: This type of “cake” or “cookie” can be assembled in many ways. It is really up to you. That is one of the reasons that it is a such a great dessert.

1. Pavlova with Chantilly Cream Topped with Mixed Berries

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream
½ cup plus 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 oz blueberries
4 ounce raspberries
4 ounce blackberries
6 ounce strawberries
juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Method of Preparation

Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer in a cold, metallic bowl on medium power until soft peaks are formed.
Ad 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to whip until medium firm peaks are formed.
Fold the vanilla extract into the whipped cream.
Keep the whipped cream in a closed container in the refrigerator until use.
Combine all the berries in a bowl.
Add the balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and mix the berries very gently, not to bruise them
Add the 1 cup sugar, mix gently one more times with the berries and let this mixture stand for 30 minutes.
Add fruit and cream to pavlovas in whatever arrangement pleases you (one suggested assembly listed below).
Assembly

Spoon about 2 tablespoons whipped cream into the indentation of the pavlova (you can add as much as you prefer)
Strain the mixed berries from the excess fluid
Spoon the mixed berries on the Chantilly cream

Pavlovas with Lemon Curd topped with banana

2. Pavlova with Lemon Curd

Ingredients:

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Optional: 1 cup heavy cream
Method of Preparation

Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan.
Add the lemon juice and butter. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.
Lightly beat the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup of the lemon mixture.
Pour egg yolk mixture it back into the saucepan.
Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until the curd is thickened, about 2 minutes (do not let it boil). Note: you can test readiness by stirring it with a wooden spoon and moving your finger across the back of the spoon. If the line your finger makes on the spoon stays intact, it’s done.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in lemon zest.
Chill, covering the surface with plastic wrap placed directly on the curd, until cool, about 1 1/2 hours.

Note: you can use orange, grapefruit, pomegranate (after straining) and really any juice to create curd.

Here’s what the empty meringue shells look like:

Unfilled meringue shells of Pavlova

Stay tuned for other variations and the story of the failed Pavlova.

I hope you’ll have fun with this dessert. Please let me know how you liked it. If you created a different filling, please share!