Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs & Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream

This weekend was my sister's birthday-- happy birthday! Although I haven't been able to celebrate with her in the same country for the last nine years, we did have a mini early celebration last month when she visited us in Sydney. To acknowledge the Australian locale, we made a pavlova (aka *pav*), the delicious meringue dessert topped with cream and fruit that is ubiquitous at any Aussie holiday, especially around the broiling Christmas season.
Pavlova with a chocolate base, lightly sweetened cream filling,
ripe figs, and melted dark chocolate 
We decided to experiment with a chocolate pav base, and used an interesting technique picked up from Nigella Lawson recipe-- a touch of balsamic vinegar stirred into the whipped egg whites with some cocoa. The flavor is perfect, not too chocolatey, and a delicious accompaniment to ripe figs and lightly sweetened cream. I've since made this recipe again using a half cup of halved fresh cherries, which worked really well with the chocolate flavor, and I'm sure sliced strawberries would also be great. We Americanized the pav even further by drizzling a little melted dark chocolate over everything before serving, which made for a great presentation-- but it's just as tasty without the drizzle.

chocolate pav: a delicious birthday cake alternative : )
A word of warning-- the pavlova base doesn't hold its shape well in a fan-forced oven (I accidentally made a flat fruit pizza instead of a pav when I used the fan on my oven), and this dessert will work best when prepared on a less-humid day. Try it out for a special occasion-- it's a gluten-free dessert that's sure to impress, and people will be coming back for seconds. Enjoy, and happy birthday wishes to my favorite sister!

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs and Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Serves 6-8

4 egg whites
2/3 cups sugar (I used  2 tablespoons brown sugar as part of this)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream:
1 small carton cream (whipping cream in the US, single cream in the UK)
3 tablespoons natural or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Fruit & Chocolate Topping:
4 ripe figs, quartered (halved fresh cherries or strawberries also work well)
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F (do not use a fan-forced oven or pavlova will flatten).

Whip up the egg whites till firm with electric mixer. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Carefully stir in cocoa and balsamic vinegar. (It's ok if streaks of cocoa remain)

Pile the egg white mixture onto a baking-paper lined cookie sheet. Make a large but tall circle, making a bit of an indentation in the centre for the cream filling. Place in oven and immediately turn oven down to 150C/ 300F. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours, until meringue is set, but still very slightly squidgy when you press your finger in the very centre. Turn off oven, crack open the oven door a couple of inches, and leave to cool completely (pavlova can be left in the oven overnight if necessary).

When ready to serve, carefully peel the meringue shell from the baking paper and set it on a serving plate. Mix all ingredients together for the honey yogurt whipped cream. Pile the yogurt whipped cream into the centre of the meringue shell, leaving an inch or so of meringue showing around the edge. Arrange the fig quarters around the creamy topping.

For the chocolate topping (optional): melt the dark chocolate carefully in a microwave (at 15 second intervals) or a double-boiler. Drizzle the chocolate over the entire pavlova.

Serve within a few hours to ensure that the meringue stays crisp on the outside.

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