So now that you know (or don’t know) the history of pavlova, let’s make a pavlova!
If your experience with meringue is mostly marked by indifference, this pavlova will change all that. It’s not chalky and tasteless the way some structured meringues can be. Long, slow baking forms a thin, crisp shell on the outside while the middle stays soft and marshmallowy—a billowy, free-form cloud in the palest, purest shade of pink, like brand-new pointe shoes. That outer shell is fragile enough that if you pile your fruit too high, as I did, the middle collapses slightly. I suspect that’s why the whipped cream was introduced in the first place. To cover up the fissures and sinkholes that arise when one of your major ingredients is just air. That’s my theory, anyway.
But the combination of sweet meringue, not-to-sweet whipped cream, and sweet-tart berries, along with the contrasting textures of crisp and yielding is absolutely delightful. Which is why I ate all of the leftovers at 11 p.m. that night. You know, because they wouldn’t taste as fresh and wholesome the next day! Best of all—and I hope you’re reading this, Mom—pavlovas are gluten-free. So, if you’re allergic to wheat, then consider this a very worthy substitute for strawberry shortcake.
Save the unused egg yolks for lemon curd or pasta dough or whatever else you make that could benefit from some extra richness.
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar, whizzed in a food processor (or super-fine sugar)
1½ tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
Splash of vanilla
1 quart strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, or other seasonal fruit
Preheat oven to 250°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and trace an 8-inch circle on it in pencil using a cake pan or bowl as a guide. Turn the parchment paper over so you don’t get pencil on your meringue (but make sure you can still see the circle you just drew).
Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a large, clean bowl. It’s very important that your bowl is grease-free and that you separated your eggs cleanly, with no broken yolks mixed in with the whites. Any fat will interfere with the whipping process. When soft peaks form, begin adding the sugar 1 tablespoonful at a time with the mixer running. Continue beating on medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Rub some meringue on your fingers to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. Lightly but thoroughly fold in the cornstarch and vinegar. These ingredients are not optional. They are necessary for that magical texture I described.
Gently mound the meringue in the center of the parchment and lightly spread it to fill the circle you traced. With the back of a spoon, shape it so that it’s higher on the sides and dipped like a well in the middle. Don’t fuss with it too much, though, or you’ll lose air. It’s meant to look free-form. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it’s just starting to take on some color and crack slightly (cracks are totally fine). Then turn off the heat and let the meringue sit inside with the oven door ajar for 30 minutes. Take out and let cool.
Assemble just before serving. Whip the cream in a clean bowl with a splash of vanilla and perhaps a bit of sugar (though the meringue is sweet enough that you don’t need much) until soft peaks form. Mound the cream in the well and top with seasonal fruit of your choosing.