"Why do you insist on making a new dish when we are expecting guests?" Peter asks. I don't exactly know why I have this urge to try something new for company. Maybe it's because I don't feel it's special if I make something I've done a thousand times. Or maybe it's the excitement of trying a new dish along with my guests. But the occasion being my mother's 78th birthday, I wanted to make a light dessert with strawberries which are in season now. What better way to showcase the red fruit better than a crispy white meringue cake? I've never made a pavlova before since it is distinctly a New Zealand/Australian dessert, but it seemed so simple with only four ingredients.
Good thing there are only four ingredients, which I had readily available, because my first attempt failed. I overcooked the meringue as evidenced by the little golden syrupy drops that appeared on the surface and the color was more of a dusty rose pink rather than a pale blush.
My second attempt was better (after adjusting the baking time) although the sides of the meringue cracked and flaked off, but the inside was moist and billowy. I was going to layer the pavlova with pastry cream made from the leftover egg yolks in addition to the whipped cream, but the cake was so delicate that I decided to just top it with lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Heavenly!
4 egg whites
1 cup super fine sugar or caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Strawberries or whatever fruit is in season
Preheat oven to 140°C (285°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pencil in a 18 cm (7 in) circle. To make the pavlova, beat the egg whites with the whip attachment of the mixer. Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl, combine the corn starch and sugar and whisk together so there are no lumps. When the egg whites form very soft peaks just after the foamy stage, slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites. Beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the white vinegar and beat for about another minute or two.
Scoop out the egg whites onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet and gently spread the mixture with a rubber spatula to form a circle. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and immediately turn down the temperature to 130°C (260°F) and bake for about 40-50 minutes. The sides should look dry and very pale pink. Turn off the heat in the oven and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven, overnight is best.
Peel off the parchment paper gently and place the cooled pavlova onto a serving plate. Whip the heavy cream with 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar depending on how sweet you would like it. Keep in mind that the pavlova is quite sweet. Top the pavlova with the whipped cream and arrange your fruit on top.
Try to assemble the pavlova as close to serving time as possible, maximum 2-3 hours prior to serving, to retain the crispness of the meringue.