April 05, 2007

Individual Pavlovas

4 egg whites, straight from the refrigerator
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter*
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 250. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, set aside. Beat on high the egg whites and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form-it should look foamy and any "peaks" should still be a bit floppy-about 3 minutes. Keep the mixer on high and slowly add the sugar-I like to pour it in a slow, continuous stream- and vinegar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, about 5-8 minutes. Plop 6 inch round blobs of egg whites on the lined pan, about 1/2 inch apart** . The egg whites/sugar are really fluffy and sort of sticky, so you might want to use two spoons-one to scoop and one to slide the egg whites off on to the pan. Smooth the top of the blobs slightly or create a well in the middle to hold any topping. Bake 1 1/2 hours or until the outside is dry and just starting to look cream colored. Turn off the oven and allow to sit 2 hours in the cool oven. The texture should be crisp on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. Great topped with compote or whipped cream. Store in a cool, dry, air-tight container.

*This is a great, fat free dessert for Passover-just make sure your cream of tarter has the O/U P logo.

**If you want to get fancy or want perfectly round pavlovas, you can draw circles on the underside of the parchment paper, but I like a free form look.

My thoughts:
Pavlovas are very simple, but very impressive. The only way I can describe it is that it is like a giant meringue with a chewy center. I like mine a little undersweet and they are great topped with fruit like banana, strawberries, kiwi or passionfruit but I had some leftover compote so used that. I also enjoyed snacking on the leftovers plain and ate them as if they were a giant cookie but be forewarned, they leave white crumbles all over your shirt. I don't know why pavlovas aren't more popular in the US, Australia seems to be fairly obsessed with them and has been for years. I have been seeing them pop up on menus and in books more and more lately, but I wouldn't say they are common by any means. Which is unfortunate because they are virtually fat-free and very adaptable. The only reason I can think that home cooks might avoid them is that egg whites have a reputation for being difficult to work with. However, if you have a stand mixer (or a good hand mixer and some stamina) it couldn't be easier. You just add the eggs to the bowl and mix away. Just remember that a soft peak and a stuff peak look exactly as they sound: soft peaks look fluffy and soft and stiff peaks hold their shape. Other tricks: work on a clear, dry day (dampness kills volume) and beat the whites in a very clean, greaseless metal bowl. I also like to beat cold egg whites, other disagree but I think I get better, glossier results. And if you make a mistake, eggs are so cheap, you can just start over without feeling like you have the salvage the problem.