Pavlova, sweet meringue cooked till crisp, is one of my favorite desserts. The pleasure is in its texture, delicately crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It’s more than enough reason to save your egg whites when making ice cream, pastry cream, or any custard. Purportedly named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, it is most frequently served with berries and cream. In spring, simply use your choice of fresh berries and whipped cream. In winter, when good-quality South American berries are abundant in American grocery stores, I love to make a simple compote.
Egg whites can be fickle. A drop of yolk or any fat in your mixing bowl and they may fail to become meringue at all. Room-temperature egg whites work best, so try to separate the eggs 10 to 20 minutes before you begin whipping them. (Take a tip from my friend and ace pastry chef
If you want to keep the meringues very white, bake them at or below 225°F/107°C. But if you need them done faster, bake at 250°F/121°C; just know that they will take on a little color, which may be what you like.
You can shape them any way you wish. Ina Garten, whose books I admire, likes to shape the meringue into one large form and serve it whole, like a tart with berries and whipped cream. This is a great way to serve pavlova. But you can also spoon it into single-serving portions or pipe it into precise shapes, such as the shape of a bowl to carry the berries and cream. Or spread them into cookie shapes and serve them as berry and cream sandwiches (French macarons are essentially egg white cookies, usually flavored with almond meal and brightly colored, with a creamy filling). There’s no end to what the pavlova can do.
The ideal ratio is equal parts by weight of egg white and sugar, or roughly 2 tablespoons sugar for every egg white. To increase this recipe to serve more, add one egg white for every two extra servings you wish to make.
Make the pavlova:
In the bowl of a standing mixer or using an immersion blender, whip the egg whites gently for a few minutes to warm them up. Then whip on high. When the mixture becomes frothy, add the lemon juice and vanilla and continue to whip just until the whites come off the beater in a ribbon and barely hold a peak. Continue whipping on high as you gradually add the sugar. Stop mixing when the meringue is shiny and bright white and holds a stiff peak.
Spoon or pipe the meringue into whatever shapes you wish onto the prepared baking sheet.
To make the whipped cream, in the bowl of a standing mixer or using a hand mixer, whip the cream till it has thickened slightly, then add the vanilla and, while still whipping, the sugar. Continue to whip until the cream holds soft peaks.
To complete the pavlovas, dollop some cream on top of the meringue and spoon the compote over the cream.
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