The Perfect Valentine's Dessert - Pavlova

Want to impress your sweetie this Valentine's Day? How about trying your hand at this beautiful pavlova? It's easy to make, infinitely adaptable with a variety of fruits and flavors, and the perfect combo of creamy, crunchy, and fruity.

My inspiration for this post has been brewing since New's Year Eve. I went out with my husband and relatives to ring in the New Year at Ten Bistro in Peachtree Corners.  I had to pinch myself when I saw "pavlova" listed on their dessert menu. I don't think I've ever seen it on a restaurant menu and I was super excited! And it was so good, I almost hated to share it. The rest of the meal was delicious too....we'll definitely be heading back there again soon.
Consequently, I've been day-dreaming about that pavlova and wanting to make one at home. Pavlova just feels special and Valentine's weekend is the perfect time of year for baking up this delight.

Pavlova was said to be named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during her tours to New Zealand and Australia in the 1920's. It is simply a baked meringue that is crispy on the outside and light on the inside. Generally it is topped with cream and fresh fruit, often berries, mango, kiwi. You often see it served on holidays and during the summer, but it is part of the culture of New Zealand and Australia and often eaten in homes year-round {sounds good to me!}.

Meringue is not hard to make, although I think some folks find it scary. Here are a few simple tips that will help you whip it up properly.
  • Use an electric mixer and make sure the bowl and the whip is very clean.
  • When you separate your eggs, be sure not to get any yolk in the whites. Sometimes you can scoop out a little yolk with your egg shell, but if you have a lot of yolk in there, it's best to start over.
  • Don't add your sugar too soon, wait until the whites reach a soft peak.
  • Whip until the meringue is stiff, but don't overwhip, or the mixture will be grainy.

Ok, are you ready to get started? Really, you have to try a pavlova at least once in your life. It is amazing! 
My pavlova is topped with a rosewater and mascarpone whipped cream, berries, and chopped pistachio. Rose pairs really well with raspberries and pistachio. If you aren't a fan of rose flavor in your food {and not everyone is}, you can simply omit the rosewater and use the vanilla flavoring. 

Pavlova with Rosewater and Mascarpone Cream, Berries, and Pistachio
Serves 8
{Makes one 9-inch or two 4 1/2-inch pavlovas}

4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar {this is superfine sugar and preferred over regular granulated sugar}
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar {I used white wine vinegar}
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 -3/4 cup mascarpone 
3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon rosewater {optional}
1 2/3 cups heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

Mixed fruit: berries, mango, kiwi, etc.
Chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 275F. Set your oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Place a piece of parchment on a half sheet pan. Using a pencil, draw out either one 9-inch circle or two 4 1/2-inch circles. Flip over parchment, so pencil is on the bottom, but can still be seen.

Make meringue:
Set up a stand mixer and make sure bowl and whip is spotlessly clean. Place the egg whites in the bowl and begin to mix on medium speed, just until you reach soft peaks. Soft peaks mean that when you lift the whip out  and turn it upside down, the peaks are still soft and barely hold their shape.

Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch together with the sugar in small bowl and mix the vinegar and vanilla together in a separate bowl.

Once whites have reach a soft peak, begin to add the sugar/cornstarch mixture, a few tablespoons at a time. As you add more sugar, begin to turn up the speed a bit at a time. As you are adding the last portion of sugar, you should end up on highest speed. Continue to whip until you reach stiff peaks.
Stiff peaks mean that when you pull out the whip and turn it upside down, the mixture is thick, stiff, and holds the peak firmly. It should look glossy.

Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl and whip, and then sprinkle in the vinegar/vanilla mixture, gently folding in with a rubber spatula.

Place the meringue in the center of the circle{s} on the parchment. Spread out from the center to the edges of the circle. Put the meringue in the oven and shut the door. Immediately turn the heat down to 250F. Bake for one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Do not open the door of the oven during baking time. The meringue will be lightly tan, dry on the outside, and hollow sounding when tapped. It may have some cracks, which is ok. 
Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly open and let the pavlova sit in the oven till completely cooled.

Make the cream:
Set up a stand mixer with the whip. In a small bowl, stir together the mascarpone, confectioners' sugar, and rosewater. Place the heavy cream in the mixer bowl and add the mascarpone mixture. Whip on medium low, just until blended. Add the vanilla bean paste and then whip on medium until the cream is soft and spreadable. Be careful not to overmix the cream or it will become stiff and grainy. Set the cream in the refrigerator till you are ready to use.

Place the cooled meringue onto a large plate or platter. Spread the cream on top, leaving a 2-inch border around the edge. Toss on berries/fruit and sprinkle with nuts. Slice into wedges to serve.

{Happily Edible After note}
Get creative with your pavlova. For example, you could make or buy lemon curd and mix it into your cream to make a lemon cream. You could use coffee flavoring in your cream and do berries with shaved dark chocolate on top {maybe even put some espresso powder in your meringue}. You could get all tropical and do a coconut-flavored cream with tropical fruits and toasted coconut. Lots of possibilities!


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