Take meringues, for example. Their main ingredient: egg whites, which, as much as I love them, I’d generously describe as one of the least appetizing-looking foods out there. But add sugar and a few other stabilizing ingredients, and you can produce mounds of meringue with a crisp exterior and a marshmallowy center, with only 15 minutes of hands-on time.
Even for a meringue novice, this pavlova recipe is totally doable. Named after the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, the dessert is so beloved in the Southern Hemisphere that both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to its invention. (For what it’s worth, the Oxford English Dictionary awarded the linguistic distinction to New Zealand, although two researchers have sought to prove that the confection’s origins instead lie with the Austrian Habsburg empire and America.) Often generously topped with whipped cream and berries, this meringue cake is easy to dress up and perhaps even easier to make, and it is gluten-free. All that adds up to a dessert worth considering for your spring holiday table.
But how exactly is this kitchen alchemy accomplished? Start with protein-rich egg whites (it’s a bit slimy, but after much trial and error, I have found the most reliable way to separate yolks and whites is with your hands). According to my new favorite reference, “The Baking Answer Book,” by Lauren Chattman, those proteins are uncoiled and then linked together when whipped, which creates a web that traps and holds air. This process takes less time with room-temperature egg whites. When you incorporate sugar, Chattman writes, it coats those proteins, which keeps them from drying out and then gives you the characteristic stable and glossy foam of a meringue. The addition of something acidic, vinegar in this recipe, also strengthens the proteins so the whites don’t deflate while baking.
A long, low bake allows the inside to set and dry without turning the exterior too dark. Letting the baked pavlova rest overnight in a propped-open oven further dries the meringue. If your oven is anything like mine, you might need to get creative and MacGyver a way to get the lights to stay off while you leave the door open. In my case, it involved a handy kitchen tool — a wooden spoon at home and a ladle in our Food Lab — wedged into place to press down on the latch sensor.
The overnight rest, in my opinion, is an advantage rather than a drawback, especially if you’re entertaining. After it’s dried, the meringue base can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days (you can leave it attached to the parchment paper). Then, right before serving, simply add your choice of toppings. We liked the combination shown in the photos here: lightly sweetened whipped cream, lemon curd, berries and fresh lavender or other aromatic herbs. Chocolate or fruit sauces, finely chopped nuts, dulce de leche, ground freeze-dried fruit and sour cream are all good options as well. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar makes a nice and elegant final touch — if not magic, at least a sprinkling of fairy dust.
Recipe notes: To quickly take the chill off refrigerated eggs, place them (whole) in a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes.
Superfine sugar (also known as castor sugar) is available at most supermarkets, but you can make your own by grinding granulated sugar in the food processor. If you do grind your own, start by processing a few more tablespoons than this recipe calls for. (Hold a towel around the food processor bowl to cut back on escaping sugar dust.)
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature (see recipe notes, above)
- 1⁄2 cup superfine sugar (see recipe notes, above)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1⁄2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a pencil and a 5-inch template (such as a small saucepan lid) to trace a circle on the parchment; turn the paper over.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a handheld mixer or stand mixer (fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment). Start on low speed and gradually increase to high, beating for about 1 minute, until the egg whites begin to get quite foamy.
With the mixer running, add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, to form a smooth and satiny meringue that holds a stiff peak. Move around the beaters of your hand mixer or scrape down the sides of your stand mixer bowl to fully incorporate the sugar. Make sure the sugar has almost completely dissolved by testing a little meringue between your fingers; if it feels overly grainy, beat until smooth. (Some granules are okay.) Remove the beaters.
Sift the cornstarch on top of the meringue in the bowl, then add the vinegar, gently folding in those two ingredients until completely incorporated.
Pile the meringue onto the parchment at the center of the traced circle, using a spatula to push from the center until the meringue fills the space. (This does not have to be precise; the pile should be about 2 1/2 inches high, with a slight peak.) Bake (middle rack) for 1 hour and 15 minutes; the pavlova will be puffed and slightly golden; a few cracks are okay.
Turn off the oven and use the handle of a long spoon to keep the oven door ajar. Let the pavlova dry in the oven overnight.
To serve, you can gently collapse the center of the pavlova to top it with fruit, whipped cream, curd, etc.
Adapted from food writer David Hagedorn.
Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to email@example.com.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here. The nutritional analysis is based on 4 servings.
More desserts from Voraciously:
Calories: 100; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 25 mg; Carbohydrates: 25 g; Sugars: 24 g; Protein: 2 g.