BLACKBERRY PAVLOVA WITH SPUN SUGAR
I started watching reruns of Nigella's British cooking show Nigella Bites and immediately enjoyed her no nonsense approach to cooking (and her sense of fashion). From pajamas to biker chick to cocktail attire, she will cook wearing anything. I'm not so brave as I'm a messy cook, but she has taught me a thing or two about what I should expect of myself and my guests when I'm cooking for a crowd. The first show I watched included a segment on pavlova. Not just any pavlova, but a stunning passion fruit version that used Australian chef Stephanie Alexander's technique of inverting the cooled merengue and piling on a pillow of freshly whipped cream. For Easter this year, I decided to do my own version and surprised myself with a bout of creative inspiration. To boot, my 26 guests (I made two) loved the lavender swirls and juicy blackberry topping. My hens laid two dozen eggs for this dessert. They did a marvelous job!
Egg whites freeze beautifully. Save them in Ziplock bags and make pavlova or meringue cookies in no time at all.
FOR THE PAVLOVA
8 egg whites
2 1/2 cups castor sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 pints blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup castor sugar
6 tablespoons of water
MAKE THE PAVLOVA
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and use a cake pan or pie plate to trace a rough 10-inch circle on the paper.
2. Put 1 1/2 pints of the blackberries, the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Mash the berries with the back of a wooden spoon, or use an immersion blender, to make a puree. Cook for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Begin adding the castor sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meringue becomes stiff (but not dry) and shiny.
4. Sprinkle the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla over the meringue and gently fold.
5. Using a spatula, gently swirl some of the blackberry puree through the meringue to make a violet and white combination. The pavlova should look like swirls of violet and white rather than one uniform color. Reserve the remainder of the sauce for assembly.
6. Gently drop the marbled meringue onto the circle drawn on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.
7. Flatten the top and smooth the sides of the meringue with a spatula.
8. Put in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250 degrees F.
9. Bake for 1 hour and then turn off the oven until it cools completely (leave pavlova inside).
10. Once the pavlova is cool, remove from the oven. Reserve until ready to complete the dessert.
WHIPPED CREAM & ASSEMBLY
1. Whip the cream to a light, soft but not stiff, texture.
2. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip for 10 seconds. Reserve. Before making spun sugar, pile the whipped cream onto the center of the pavlova and carefully use a spatula to pull cream to the edges of the meringue.
3. Spoon the reserved blackberry puree over the whipped cream and let it drip down the sides of the pavlova. Add fresh berries to the top of the dessert.
MAKE THE SPUN SUGAR
1. When the pavlova is ready, mix the sugar and the water in a small saucepan. Cook, uncovered, on high for about 90 seconds. Stir so the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until the sugar turns a golden, caramel color, about 5 minutes.
2. Wait for the caramel bubbles to subside and let caramel stand for 2 minutes. Dip a fork into the caramel and spin the sugar around the top of the pavlova, forming a glass case of sorts.