Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Berry Pavlova with Cream & Mint

Sweet, crunchy and meltingly soft, no one knows who first created the Summer Berry Pavlova, an elegant dessert with a fluffy meringue that's filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit, but the name and recipes first began appearing soon after the Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, toured both Australia and New Zealand in 1926. Considered to be the greatest ballerina of her time, it was said "She doesn't dance, she soars as though on wings." A summer cloud of fruit, cream and meringue, it's no coincidence that the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, is said to have been both ethereal and delicate. 

Russian dancers Anna Pavlova and Nijinsky

It's thought that a chef at a hotel in Wellington, New Zealand created the dish when Pavlova visited there on her world tour. So inspired by her tutu draped in green silk cabbage roses, that the chef created the Pavlova dessert: the shape of the tutu was provided by a meringue case, while the froth of the skirt's net was suggested by whipped cream. To achieve the effect of the green roses the enterprising chef used slices of kiwifruit.

While it's been suggested that this dessert was created in New Zealand, it's also recognized as a popular Australian dish, so for sake of staying neutral, we'll say both country's are to blame for the sumptuous Pavlova, an edible translation of sugar turned into cumulous clouds. As the crisp meringue shell crumbles as you cut through the layers, a burst of berries followed by sweet cream will make you want to get up on your toes and pirouette across the room, like the ballerina herself. Whether you hail from Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, this is a fabulous dessert any time of year.

Mini Pavolva with whipped cream and Strawberries

Summer Berry Pavlova
Serves 8

4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
Fresh mint, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. For one large meringue, draw a 9-inch circle on the paper using a 9-inch plate as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. This way you won't get a pencil mark on the meringue. For individual meringues, draw 3 or 4-inch circles, and follow in a similar fashion.

Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Invert the meringue disk onto a plate and spread the top completely with sweetened whipped cream. Combine the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, or your favourite fruit, in a bowl. Spoon the berries carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Garnish with fresh sprigs of mint and whole berries to decorate meringue and hide cracks! Serve immediately.

Sweetened Whipped Cream
Makes 1 cup

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or you can also use a hand mixer. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm.