It's Berry Week over at Good Eggs, which means they're giving away free berries with every order! To celebrate, I made a pavlova.
I'd never been one for meringue until I tasted the pillowy clouds they make in the pastry kitchen at Chez Panisse. But still, for years I was terrified to try my own hand at it. Egg whites can be finicky, I'd heard (and experienced), time and time again.
It was my friend Aaron Hyman who gave me the courage to make, and fail, at everything egg-white. After working for two years at Ici Ice Cream in Berkeley, making meringues and chiffon cakes, marshmallows, and baked Alaskas, every single day, he took me under his whipping wing and fostered fearlessness in my little heart.
This is the foolproof recipe he taught me for pavlova, which is simply a marshmallowy meringue bed with a berries and cream comforter, and it originally comes from the peerless Flo Braker. I just added some Persian flavors, with saffron, rose, and cardamom, and now the dessert tastes like my childhood in a bowl.
I moved the baked meringue around a few times too many in an attempt to get the best photos, so instead of assembling it whole, I broke it up and layered it in a vase with all of the accoutrements and gifted it to a friend as a trifle. It worked beautifully that way, too but if you're going to go the trifle route, assemble within an hour of serving, because the meringue will start to dissolve soon thereafter.
For the meringue:
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 ounces (about 3) large egg whites at room temperature
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of saffron, ground in a mortar and pestle and dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water, cooled
For the topping:
- 1 cup each sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, kept separate
- 4 tablespoons rosewater
- Dried rose petals (I used rosebud tea from Far Leaves Tea) for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.
In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour saffron tea. Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes.
Spoon the meringue into an 9-by-6-inch oval on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner. With the back of a spoon, create an indentation in the middle of the mound for holding the filling once meringue is baked.
Place baking sheet in the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 225°F. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the meringues are crisp, dry to the touch on the outside, and white -- not tan-colored or cracked. The interior should have a marshmallow-like consistency. Check on meringue at least once during the baking time. If it appears to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around.
Gently lift the meringue from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. It will keep in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for up to a week barring any humidity.
While the meringue is baking, macerate the berries. In separate dishes, macerate each type of berry with 1 tablespoon rosewater and 1 tablespoon sugar for at least 30 minutes to draw out their juices.
Add the cardamom and 1/4 cup sugar to the cream and whip to soft peaks.
To assemble, place the meringue on your serving dish then spoon in whipped cream. Spoon juicy berries atop the cream. Top with crushed dried rose petals. Serve with fresh mint tea.