Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pavlova: "feel the promise of SQUIDGINESS beneath your fingers..."

To all my dieting friends, I am going to apologize ahead of time (but don’t worry I didn’t forget about you). This week’s post is about a yummy, cool dessert, perfect for the steadily warming weather.

It’s actually a very light dessert because in it’s simplest form it is just a meringue.  Because I enjoyed this Food Network Magazine dessert recipe so much, and because it showcased an important dessert cooking technique – making a meringue – I thought it would be a good one for the blog.

A couple of things that are important to remember about meringues… make sure that whatever bowls and mixing accessories you’re using are thoroughly washed and dried. Any leftover particles or bits of water may cause the meringue to not peak up. Also, most meringues require a bit of salt or of cream of tartar (in the seasoning section at the grocery store) to help keep it peaked. As for the egg whites, be careful that you don’t accidentally get any bits of yolk in them. I recommend separating one at a time into a separate bowl before pouring it into the mixing bowl so as to not accidentally ruin what you’ve already put in the mixing bowl if you drop a piece of shell or yolk into it.

Now don’t be afraid of leaving it to whip for too long because it will probably seem like too long if it’s the first time you’ve made a meringue, but you want to make sure that when you lift the beaters out the meringue stays up in the position the beaters were last in. This is what is called “stiff peaks forming”.

This particular recipe also calls for balsamic vinegar, which is naturally a sweet product.  [This note is for my dieting friends.] Balsamic vinegar actually makes a good sweetener for strawberries rather than sugar or an alternative sweetener. It adds a bit of sweetness with a little bit of a different flavor.

Now this particular dessert – called a pavlova – is impressive looking once it’s put together and basically comes out as a deliciously moist cake. It’s a must-try for any chocolate fan (You know who you are. You probably see me at the meetings. J), but it’s not too chocolately. It actually calls for dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder, which adds a little bit of healthiness to it compared to milk chocolate; however, the whipped up heavy cream goodness that goes on top kind of ruins and hopes of low fat or low calories. Just save it for your splurge day!

This dessert is what I Zumba for:

[From Food Network Magazine]

For the Meringue Base:
6 large egg whites
2 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the Toppings:
2 cups heavy cream
4 cups raspberries (I used strawberries instead.)
1 to 2 ounces dark chocolate

Prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw a 9-inch-diameter circle on the paper with a pencil, tracing a round cake tin that size.
Flip the paper over so your meringue doesn't touch the pencil marks - you'll still be able to see the circle.
Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites with a mixer until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
Add the chocolate: Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites. Gently fold everything with a rubber spatula until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.

Shape the meringue: Secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue under each corner. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, smoothing the sides and the top with a spatula.

Bake the meringue: Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F and cook for one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready, it should look crisp and dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. [Yes, the recipe actually said squidginess!]
Let it cool: Turn off the oven and open the door slightly; let the chocolate meringue disk cool completely in the oven. When you're ready to serve, invert onto a big flat-bottomed plate and peel off the parchment.
Decorate the Pavlova: Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter the raspberries on top. Coarsely grate the chocolate haphazardly over the top so that you get curls of chocolate rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious color and form to be obscured. You want the Pavlova to look like a frosted cake.