In The New Sugar & Spice, Samantha Seneviratne gives peppercorn and savory spices the spotlight when making desserts.
Traditional pavlova is made by topping a large baked meringue with whipped cream and fruit. It was created in the early twentieth century to honor the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. Perhaps the baker was inspired, after watching Pavlova perform, to create something lighter than air. A perfect meringue is exactly that. It’s a cloud-like puff, complete with an appealing crunchy exterior and a chewy center. I top mine with a tart lime custard to balance out the sweetness of the meringue, and plenty of fresh pineapple and basil. The combination is unexpected and wonderful.
Meringue is simple to prepare but takes a few hours to bake. If you make it the day before you plan to serve it, you can leave it to dry out in the oven overnight. Meringue is best undertaken when the air is dry, and avoided at other times. Humidity makes meringue (and bakers) weep.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cake pan or a plate, trace an 8-inch circle on the paper. Flip the paper over and set on the sheet.
- To prepare the meringue, in a small bowl, use your fingers to blend the vanilla seeds into the sugar until evenly combined. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-high until foamy and the yellowish hue has disappeared, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the vanilla sugar and continue to beat until you have shiny, stiff peaks, about 4 minutes. Quickly beat in the vinegar and then the cornstarch. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared parchment sheet and swirl the meringue decoratively within the 8-inch circle. Place in the oven and immediately decrease the oven temperature to 250°F.
- Bake the meringue until the outside is very crisp, about 90 minutes. Check the meringue every 25 minutes. If it is taking on too much color, decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees. When finished, it will be slightly off-white. Turn the oven off and let the meringue stand inside until completely cooled. Overnight is just fine—as long as it isn’t a humid day.
- Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl.
- To prepare the custard, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat ½ cup of the heavy cream and the vanilla bean seeds over medium-low heat until hot. While whisking, add the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture. Return the mixture back into the saucepan and stir in the lime juice. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until just bubbling. Let it cook 1 minute more. Strain the custard through the sieve into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface, and chill until cold.
- Just before serving, toss the pineapple with the basil and lime zest. Whip the remaining ½ cup cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the custard. Spread the custard cream evenly over the top of the meringue, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with the pineapple mixture and serve immediately. Pavlova is best eaten as soon as it is assembled.
Reprinted with permission from The New Sugar and Spice, by Samantha Seneviratne, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.