piñata pavlova

May 25, 2010 § 5 Comments

There are some recipes that just make me nervous. Yeasted doughs, anything involving caramel, and in particular: meringue. It’s even worse when I have a crowd to bake for, who can judge me for my failures. This anxiety may demonstrate that I in fact lead a quite sheltered life, in which the scariest event is baking. But it’s serious stuff! So why did I decide to make pavlova just as people congregated at my house for a barbecue? I have no idea, and somehow it worked out perfectly.

My incredibly talented friends constructed a piñata (seriously!) and we grilled en masse in the backyard. I ducked out partway through to assemble the dessert – you can make most of this ahead of time, but it doesn’t hold up long once it’s all put together. My heartstopping moments came mostly as I was making the meringue, and the peaks most obstinately refused to stiffen. It did get properly glossy though, so eventually I just shoved it in the oven and hoped for the best.

The pavlova turned out beautifully: it was crisp, melted in your mouth, and somehow didn’t break when I turned it out of the pan. Three layers are stacked with whipped cream and macerated berries, making for a gorgeous dessert. The pavlova is also flavoured with brown sugar, which gives it more depth than the typical recipe. My only minor complaint is that I think I don’t actually love pavlova. It’s all about sugar and not a trace of butter, which is the opposite of what I normally go for. But this recipe really is perfect, so if you’re a meringue-lover, make it!

Triple-layer Brown Sugar Pavlova – adapted from Gourmet

Note: The meringue takes 2 hours in the oven, so it’s not a last-minute dessert. But it can be made ahead that day, or frozen up to a month earlier.

For meringue:

    Confectioners sugar for dusting
    1 cup superfine granulated sugar – I substituted 1 cup granulated sugar, whizzed in the food processor for 15 seconds.
    1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
    3/4 cup egg whites (from 5 to 6 large eggs), at room temperature 30 minutes
    Pinch salt

For berries:

    1 1/2 pounds strawberries, trimmed and quartered
    1 pound blackberries
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For cream:

    1 cup chilled heavy cream
    1/3 cup chilled sour cream

Make meringue:
Preheat oven to 275°F. Lightly butter 3 (8-inch) round cake pans, then dust sides of pans with confectioners sugar, knocking out excess. Line bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper.

Pulse superfine sugar (or pre-processed regular sugar), brown sugar, and cornstarch in a food processor until well combined.

Stir together vanilla and vinegar in a small bowl.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more. Add vinegar mixture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. (My meringue got glossy but the peaks never quite made it to stiff – it still turned out great.) Spoon meringue into pans (about 2 1/2 cups per pan) and smooth tops.

Bake until meringues have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch, about 1 hour (insides will still be marshmallow-like).

Turn oven off and prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Cool meringues in oven 1 hour. (Meringues may sink slightly and crack while cooling.)

Run knife along sides of cake pans and very carefully turn meringues out of pans. Carefully peel off parchment (meringues will be fragile and the crust may crack further). Carefully turn right side up.

Macerate berries:
While meringues cool, toss berries with sugar and let stand at room temperature until ready to use (up to 1 hour).

Assembly:
When ready to assemble dessert, beat heavy cream with sour cream using an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks. Put 1 meringue on a serving plate and spread one third of whipped cream over it. Spoon one third of fruit (with juice) over top. Repeat with remaining meringues, cream, and fruit.

Note: If you want to make your meringues ahead of time and freeze them, wrap them individually and freeze for up to a month. Thaw at room temperature, still wrapped, for at least 2 hours.

p.s. here is our beautiful piñata. It’s a mouse! With a hat, of course.

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