Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Brown Sugar Pavlovas

Pavlova is an iconic Aussie dessert (the Kiwis claim it, too... an iconic antipodean dessert, perhaps).  A crisp meringue holds lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit.  Delicious.

The pavlova's eponymous Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, traveled to the antipodes in the 1920s and was honored by a local chef with this dessert, created to resemble her swirling skirts.  This sweet treat is an appropriate post for 2012 as the Australian Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary!

In my first couple of weeks in Australia, I dined with friends at Bill's, the restaurant begun by Australia's first Master Chef winner, Bill Granger.  I had my first authentic pavlova for dessert (following an incredible meal of moroccan roasted lamb).  Rather than the traditional sweet whipped cream, Bill dollops his pavlovas with a lighter combination of whipped cream and plain yogurt.  The slightly tart filling contrasted with the sweet base and fruit is mouth-watering, and even my most ardent Aussie guests approve of this departure from tradition.  I also like to make pavlovas with a bit of brown sugar, which gives the meringue a slightly caramelized flavor.

A pavlova ('pav' to the locals) is the perfect ending to a BBQ, and a must for Australia Day in January.  Any combination of fresh fruit can be used, but my Aussie husband assures me that passion fruit is necessary.  You can make one large pavlova, but they bake more quickly and are an easier presentation when prepared as individual shells.  Don't be intimidated by all the mixing, just keep going until the egg whites are thick and glossy and stand in stiff peaks when you lift the beaters out.  The meringue shells can be stored in an airtight container for a week, making it an easy dessert to assemble last minute.  Try them now for a taste of Aussie summer, or break them out for your first BBQ when the weather turns warm in your hemisphere!

(picture to come... every time I make these they get eaten up immediately!)

Brown Sugar Pavlovas
makes 6 individual pavlovas

4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
2/3 cups sugar (preferably caster sugar or superfine sugar)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cups whipping cream (or, if you're in a hurry, 1 cup of light whipped cream from a spray can!)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt or greek yogurt
2 cups chopped fresh fruit (such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, passion fruit, peaches)

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.  Cover a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites, vanilla, and cornstarch in a large glass bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add the white sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating continuously.  Add the brown sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the meringue is very thick and glossy.  Gently stir in the vinegar with a large spoon until incorporated.

Divide the meringue mixture into six equal portions on the parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Spread each portion into a shell about 4 inches in diameter, making an indentation in the center with the back of a spoon so that there are high ridges along the outer edges of each shell.

Place the meringues in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 280F/140C.  Bake for one hour, until the outsides of the meringue shells are firm (they will be very slightly brown because of the brown sugar, but should not darken too much).  Leaving the meringues inside, turn off the oven.  Crack the oven door slightly and leave the pavlovas inside for about four hours, or until completely cooled.  When cooled, carefully peel the meringues off of the parchment paper.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to one week.

When ready to serve, prepare the toppings.  Sprinkle a half tablespoon of powdered sugar over the chopped fresh fruit and gently toss; set aside.  Whip the cream and the other half tablespoon of powdered sugar with an electric mixer for about 6-7 minutes, until it thickens.  (Or just spray about 1 cup of light whipped topping into a bowl... this is what I usually do!) Gently fold the yogurt into the whipped cream.

Top each meringue shell with a generous dollop of the whipped cream and yogurt mixture.  Arrange fruit on top of the cream, and serve with a spoon.

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