Petite Pavlova

For last weekend's Mother's Day a friend asked if I would make a Pavlova with fresh berries for her Sunday dinner celebration with family.  As I was in the mode, I decided to make some small versions for my own use.  Et pourquoi pas?!

Pavlova, reportedly named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who danced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a baked meringue that is typically filled with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit of choice.

The French also use the word vacherin (NOT the cheese) for a similar meringue based dessert, often filled with ice cream and topped with fresh fruit.  Ice cream?  Whipped cream?  Either one works, so you decide!

A general meringue formula uses approximately 2 parts sugar to 1 part egg white, often with a pinch of salt or cream of tartar added to help the mixture hold its shape once whipped.

My base recipe for an 8-9 inch Pavlova calls for 4 large egg whites, a pinch of salt and a cup of superfine sugar whipped to glossy peaks.  Since I was making an 8 inch-er plus a bunch of small ones I made 1.5 times the recipe.  Plenty for my needs.

There are three methods of making meringue.

The French method, which I use here, involves whipping sugar and room temperature egg whites to glossy, stiff peaks, piping out shapes and drying them in a low oven to achieve a crispy exterior with a somewhat chewy interior.

love those peaks!

The Swiss method involves heating the sugar and whites over a barely simmering bain marie and then whipping them until cooled, glossy and peaked.  This version is more stable and can be piped and shaped.

Side note:  I used the Swiss method when I made "Baked Rhode Island" (a Kenyon's white cornmeal cake/coffee ice cream version of "Baked Alaska") at Gracie's in Providence many years ago.  I piped a lot of those little babies!  Reminds me of a hedgehog or sea urchin!

Gracie's "Baked Rhode Island"

And last but not least is the Italian method.  This calls for boiling a sugar syrup to the soft ball stage (240-245ºF), cooling it slightly, then pouring it over stiffly beaten whites while continuing to whisk until completely cool and glossy.  This is the most stable of the three and can be used alone or as a base for buttercream for cake icing or folded into mousses and creams to lighten them.  Some French macaron recipes call for Italian meringue as well.

Let's get on with the petite Pavlovas!

Once my French meringue was nicely whipped I blended in a mixture of 1.5 teaspoons each of cornstarch, water and vanilla extract.  This served to add a bit of flavor from the vanilla as well as enhance the crispy tenderness of the meringue.

For piping I used a simple trick that I had learned back in 2007 during my stage at Pâtisserie Pascal Pinaud in Paris - use a round cutter or tart ring dipped in confectioner's sugar to provide a size guide for your desired shapes.  Pretty nifty!

Psst!  I prefer to bake meringues (macarons included) on Silpats - they pop off very easily once baked.

I piped simple circles with a star tip while my oven was heating to 300ºF . . . .

. . . popped them into the oven, turned the temp down to 250ºF and left them in to bake (i.e. dry) for 1.25 hours.  Then I turned the oven off and let it cool down before removing the meringues.

all dried out

 Invariably there will be some cracks in the finished product, but that's par for the course.  Don't worry.

These will keep for several days in a covered container in a cool, non-humid environment OR can be frozen for several weeks.  Just pop a few out as you need them!

I chose to fill my petite Pavlovas with a whipped ricotta cream (one cup ricotta whipped with 1/2 cup heavy cream) to which I added seeds scraped from a vanilla bean and my homemade caramel sauce.  What's not to like!

see those vanilla bean specks?

I must confess that I'm not a big meringue fan (sorry you macaron lovers), but I found this combination quite pleasing.  The meringue was crisp with a hint of chew inside and the ricotta creamy and luscious with vanilla and caramel.  Yum.  And, of course, you simply CAN NOT go wrong with fresh fruit.

And to top it off, as a test I put several of these (uncovered no less) in my fridge for a day.  Boy oh boy, were Steve and I pleased!  The flavor was superb, the exterior of the meringue still crisp, the interior had softened to near gooey-ness and even the fruit was none the worse for wear after a day sitting next to leftovers.

Yes indeed.

And wouldn't you know I still have several meringues in my freezer and some freshly churned lemon ice cream waiting to go?

Now what do you think of that?!