With a large “squidgy” meringue base, a billowy mound of whipped cream and a topping of balsamic strawberries, this Strawberry Pavlova is one showstopping dessert!
We rarely had fancy desserts growing up, but do remember one luscious creation involving a meringue base, lemon curd topped with whipped cream. That was my introduction to pavlova. Years later, I joined a cooking board; and one of Nigella’s recipes, a chocolate pavlova covered with beautiful red raspberries and cream, was receiving tons of praise. I made that for a neighborhood pitch in one Memorial Day, and it was gone in a flash. I had to make a second for my disappointed family later that day. It was time to shake things up a bit, and I was ready to try a Strawberry Pavlova. I had a feeling they’d love this version, too.
Strawberry Topped Meringue Shell
As Memorial Day approached this year, I could not get the thoughts of pavlova out of my mind. I headed to the farmers market yesterday in hopes of finding the first Indiana strawberries of the season. Another Nigella recipe, this Strawberry Pavlova, would be this year’s holiday dessert. I experienced the heavenly taste of berries with sugar and balsamic vinegar when making a mascarpone cheesecake, so this particular topping was right up my alley.
The crisp shell of the meringue gave way to a sweet, chewy, melt in your mouth center. The fluffy topping of sweetened whipped cream and berries crowned this stunning dessert beautifully. I think a strawberry topped meringue will have to be our Memorial Day tradition. This version was magnificent. But don’t limit pavlova to summer berry season. Around the holidays, we can find amazing Florida strawberries and this would be a marvelous Christmas treat.
Tips for Making a Pavlova
Like with simple meringue cookies, there are a few things you must know before baking up a pavlova.
- PRO-Tip: First, when working with egg whites, your mixing bowl and beaters must be completely free of any grease or oil or the whites will not whip properly.
- I make sure everything has been run through the dishwasher, to ensure grease free dishes.
- In the same vein, when separating the egg whites from the yolks, you must take care that no yolk, even a tiny speck, contaminates the whites.
- Yolks have fat and will also prevent your whites from whipping to their potential. If you contaminate an egg white or whites, you must toss all the whites or save them for another use.
- PRO-Tip: I bake my pavlova on a parchment lined baking sheet. I draw a circle, using a cake pan as a template, on the parchment.
- Then I flip the parchment over and use the circle as a guide for spreading the beaten egg whites.
- A pavlova is baked at a lower than average temperature for a longer time period. Most are then left in the oven, with the heat off, to cool and dry.
- Add the toppings shortly before serving. The toppings will soften the meringue shell, which isn’t a bad thing, but the preferred way to eat is when freshly made.
For the meringue:
- 4 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups superfine or regular granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon high-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1-2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 envelope Whip It (optional)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
- To prepare meringue: heat oven to 350º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9- inch cake pan as a guide. In bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny.
- Sprinkle in cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and vanilla, and fold in gently. Mound onto parchment within circle, and shape into a disk, flattening top and smoothing sides. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 300º. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in oven.
- To prepare topping: in a mixing bowl, combine strawberries, vanilla, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.
- To serve, invert meringue onto a plate, and carefully peel off parchment. Whip cream (add Whip It* and powdered sugar if desired) until it is thick enough to hold peaks, and spread it evenly over meringue. Cover cream with strawberries. Serve immediately.
I add Whip It to stabilize the whipped cream. If dessert will be eaten on the day it is made, this is not necessary.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson.
Strawberry Pavlova circa 2010