A.J. turned 30 on 3/10, and his birthday request was a home-cooked dinner at home. So sweet. A.J. didn't really have an opinion what we had for dinner, but he knew what he wanted for his birthday dessert...Pavlova..
When A.J. and I went to NZ in 2009, little did I know that we would be introduced to the dessert-of-all-desserts: PAVLOVA. (Can you hear the angels singing??) We spent Christmas with A.J.'s cousins Linda & Tim (and their amazing kids Maddie & Charlie). To spend Xmas with family on the other side of the world was pretty awesome. Tim's mom Robbie is apparently known for her mad, mad Pavlova skills. When I heard what she was serving for dessert I was nervous. Pavlova? It sounds like some kind of ambrosia, jello-mold grossness. And then I heard what makes Pavlova tick: a huge meringue, fresh whipped cream and delicious berries on top. I'm all in.
Start with the mega-meringue.... (see instructions @ the bottom)
Wash, cut, lightly sugar the fruit. (You can use any type of berry)
Spread whipped cream lightly on top of meringue. In this situation, more is definitely more.
Top with berries and DIG IN.
4 large (120 grams) egg whites
1 cup (200 grams) superfine (castor) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch (corn flour)
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) granulated white sugar (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or other fruit of your choice
Pavlova: Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (130 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7 inch (18 cm) circle on the paper. Turn the parchment paper over so the circle is on the reverse side.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat, on high speed, until the meringue holds very stiff and shiny peaks. (Test to see if the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger. The meringue should feel smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers). Beat in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold in. Spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)
Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the outside is dry and is a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)
The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, for a few days.
Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate. Whip the cream in your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. Sweeten with the sugar and vanilla and then mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours.