Pavlova: A Dessert That Dances
Photographed by John Gruen; styled by Kari Chapin
Well, maybe not. But the pavlova—an airy meringue concoction invented either in New Zealand or Australia, sometime between 1926 and 1935, as a tribute to the ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured both countries several times during that period (believe it or not, the debate goes on)— is so light that it will allow you to dance after dinner without feeling overstuffed. What’s more, you’ve probably never made a dessert this simple that looks this impressive.
There are more complicated ways of making a pavlova, which involve beating heated sugar syrup into egg whites, but my method works perfectly well. Plan to eat this as soon as you can after making it; if you try to prepare it the night before (tempting, given the need to allow the baked meringue to cool completely in the oven with the door ajar) the result will be slightly flattened, like the one in the photograph. It will still, however, taste divine.—Paige Orloff
Chocolate Berry Pavlova
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer (Hyperion, 2003)
6 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
for the topping:
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint strawberries or raspberries, rinsed and air dried, and, if using strawberries hulled (a combination of both berries is delicious, too)
2-3 tablespoons coarsely grated dark chocolate (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Set a 9 inch round cake pan atop the parchment, and using a Sharpie or pencil, trace around the pan to form a circle. Turn the parchment over, and place atop a baking sheet (the circle will show through, but the ink or graphite won’t come in contact with the food.)
With a hand mixer, standing mixer or strong arms, beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form. (Make sure all utensils are scrupulously clean.) Then beat in the sugar a bit at a time until the meringue is stiff and very shiny. Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and chopped chocolate over the egg white mixture, and fold gently until thoroughly combined.
Heap the meringue onto the circle on the parchment, spreading to make an even circle, about 1-1/2 inches high. Smooth the top and sides gently. Place in the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to 300F. Cook for about 1-1/4 hours, until the meringue is crisp on the edges and still gives a bit in the middle when pushed with a finger. The edges may crack a bit; that’s fine. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly, and allow to cool completely (at least 2 - 3 hours.)
Just before serving, beat the cream untl thick but still a bit soft. (I don’t add any sugar, but you could if you like.) Pile the cream on top of the meringue, and then arrange the berries on top. If you like, sprinkle the whole thing with the grated chocolate, and serve immediately.