I sort of lost my cooking mojo this week. Similar to writer’s block it wasn’t that I couldn’t cook, just that I was having a difficult time finding inspiration and the dishes I did prepare were just okay, certainly not worth blogging about. And I’d hate to waste your time on just a so-so recipe.
So I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled I was when the idea for meringue hit me out-of-the-blue last night. I hadn’t made meringue in a long time but I’ve always loved the simplicity of whipping some egg whites with sugar and getting a dessert. I also decided to make a strawberry topping to celebrate the end of strawberry season in my area, and also because I had a lot of them sitting around.
(Short story: I was very late arriving at the market last week, in fact I didn’t get there until a half hour before closing. I usually try to go early because the produce can get picked over, but that just wasn’t going to happen. Anyways, as I was leaving I passed a farmer trying to unload the last of his strawberries. Being the sucker that I am (for strawberries and in general), I agreed to buy three quarts for the price of two. I valiantly made it through two of the quarts all by myself, but I still had one left and the berries were beginning to go bad. Needless to say, I was desperate to find a proper use for them.)
Pavlova is essentially meringue (egg whites and sugar) with a small amount of corn starch and vinegar baked at a low temperature. The result is a crispy shell surrounding a marshmallow-like center. The Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand (apparently both countries take credit for it) and is traditionally made in one large circle and is topped with whipped cream and fruit.
Today I made it a bit differently, first by making 10 small abstract “clouds” instead of one large round disk. And second by topping the clouds with macerated strawberries and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, which allowed me to omit the whipped cream making the dessert a bit lighter and healthier.
The Pavlova clouds are a lot of fun to make and very simple. The batter comes together in less than 10 minutes and bakes without a lot of fuss. All-in-all, a fun and whimsical summer treat.
Here’s the recipe:
Pavlova Clouds with Strawberries & Balsamic Drizzle, makes 10 servings
4 egg whites, at room temperature (let sit out for 30 minutes)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 quart strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Aged balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 225ºF and line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
Pour the room temperature egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes (peaks will form when you lift the whisk but will not stay upright). Continue whisking while slowly adding the sugar until it has all been incorporated. Whisk until the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks (the whites will hold their shape when the whisk is removed).
Sprinkle the salt and corn starch over the top and pour in the vinegar and vanilla. Fold in with a spatula being careful not to overmix.
Use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to portion the egg whites on the baking sheet (makes approximately 10 clouds). Try to leave 1-inch between each. Use your fingers to gently form the tops so that they’re slightly sunken in the center and raised on the sides in order to form a well for the toppings.
Bake the Pavlova clouds until the tops just begin to crack, about 45 to 50 minutes. Turn off the oven and crack the door open to slowly cool the Pavlovas. Let them sit in the oven for 20 minutes.*
Prepare the strawberries while the Pavlova clouds are baking. Remove the stems from the strawberries and cut them into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the strawberries in a bowl and toss with the sugar, then let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes so that juice accumulates at the bottom of the bowl.
To serve, top each Pavlova cloud with strawberries and drizzle with strawberry juice and 1/2 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar.
*Note: Pavlova clouds can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.