piñata pavlova

May 25, 2010 § 6 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).

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.


belated cookies

January 2, 2010 § 12 Comments

Am I supposed to stop posting cookie recipes after Christmas? Unfortunately I’m terribly disorganized, and many pre-holiday photos are still lingering sadly in the tunneling clutter of my file system. But today the last cookie recipe sees the light of day! Although I suspect there will be more to come. I mean, what occasion are cookies not appropriate for?

These cookies are another recipe that’s naturally gluten-free, and impossibly easy. Plus no butter, which would normally be sacrilege but in meringue recipes is actually acceptable (especially when there’s a large quantity of chocolate). Egg whites are beaten with sugar into a thick cream, and then you add cocoa powder and chocolate for intense chocolate flavour. A roll in powdered sugar makes the cookies all pretty and snowy-looking, which I’m a sucker for, and it turns out many others are too!

I sort of expected a recipe based on meringue to turn out airy and light, but these cookies are seriously rich, dense, and fudgy. If you’re anything like me, you will love them. The only thing I minded was they were a tiny bit too sweet for my tastes. I thought about skipping the sugar roll at the end, but it makes them so pretty that I don’t think I can leave it out. Instead I might try reducing the sugar in the dry ingredient mix by half a cup or so.

Dark Chocolate Cookies – from Epicurious

  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided (next time I might use 1/4 or 1/2 cup less)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 2 large baking sheets or line with parchment.

Gently melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme. Whisk 1 cup sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue. Stir in lukewarm chocolate and 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place 1/2 cup sugar in bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; let cool.

a foray into gluten-free

December 3, 2009 § 9 Comments

Oh flour, how I love thee, let me count the ways! 1: cake. 2: cookies. 3: warm bread. And so on, I think you get the idea.

But in fact, flour is very unkind to a small segment of the population. Specifically, it creates much unpleasantness for those people with Celiac disease, which comes with pretty tricky food restrictions. The gluten-free diet rules out anything with flour, as well as several other foods (beer! ack!), but it would be unacceptably tragic not to be able to eat baked goods. And so, after a few discussions with a friend who has Celiac, I set my sights on baking something delicious and gluten-free. Then it took me at least a month to get around to it.

The main obstacle was that every recipe seemed to require four different flours which I didn’t yet own, and were pretty expensive. In the end, I went in completely the opposite direction: flourless! Highly delicious and definitely no gluten. My nearly flourless chocolate cake would have been easy to adapt, but I wanted something portable that I could take to share with others. The answer, then, was flourless peanut butter cookies: I didn’t know they existed, but I’m so glad I do now.

I can’t pretend that these are exactly the same as regular peanut butter cookies: the lack of flour makes them a bit prone to falling apart, and the texture is different. But they’re still soft and peanut buttery and full of flavour – my friend said this was the best peanut butter cookie she’d had since her diagnosis. So I pronounce my first attempt at gluten-free a success, and might even go buy some fancy flours soon. Those who know me won’t be surprised that I didn’t take much convincing.

Peanut butter cookies: from Joy the baker

  • 1 cup peanut butter (if you use a natural brand, you should probably add salt)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350.

With hand mixer, beat peanut butter with sugars until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add egg and baking soda and beat for another 2 minutes. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls (it’ll be crumbly, just squeeze it lots), place on baking sheet and press down with fork. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

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