I wrote about Pavlova a few years ago, Pav as it’s affectionately known to Australians. It’s a gang buster of a dessert, a showstopper just like the ballerina it was named after, Anna Pavlova.
When you deconstruct a Pavlova you make a few discoveries: that it’s composed of meringue, which is just sweetened egg whites baked long and slow, seasonal fresh fruit, and that it’s not as decadent as it looks. Well. Except for the whipped cream part. You could leave it out, but then you’d have to call it something else. Pavlova is characterized by its meringue, fresh fruit and whipped cream. Right now it’s rhubarb, which must be sweetened and cooked, but it’s worth it. If you’re not a rhubarb fan, wait just a few weeks and we’ll have strawberries, raspberries, cherries, figs, peaches . . . perfect Pavlova complements.
The other day I had lunch with friends at a Seattle restaurant called Whale Wins. Such good food, and for dessert we had something like a Pavlova, cooked rhubarb, crunchy bits of meringue, and sour cherry infused whipped cream. They call it Spring Rhubarb Eton Mess. Since I have rhubarb in the garden and last June’s Montmorency cherries in the freezer, I had to try to make something like it at home. Seemed like a deconstructed Pavlova to me.
Deconstructed Pavlova Recipe
Modified from the Jerry Traunfeld recipe I wrote about a few years ago, Gotta Lova Pavlova.
Enough for four. You can freeze leftover meringue and then crumble it up as needed, whip some cream, slice some fresh fruit, assemble and you’re there.
About the pistachios. This is another Jerry Traunfeld culinary-genius concept, adding pistachios to the meringue, but they can be omitted.
Ingredients for the Meringue: 2 t unsalted butter for the parchment paper/ 1 C unsalted shelled whole pistachios (skip the nuts if you prefer)/ 1 T cornstarch/ 1 1/2 c superfine sugar/ 6 large egg whites (3/4 C) at room temperature/1/4 t cream of tartar.
Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly butter parchment to cover a 15″ x 12″ rectangle .
Directions for Meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees/ Chop 3/4 C of pistachios and stir together with cornstarch and 1/4 C of the superfine sugar – or skip this step/ Using an electric mixer beat egg whites and cream of tartar until they form soft peaks/ Gradually beat in the remaining 1 1/4 C sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, taking about 5 minutes to add it all/ Continue beating for 2 more minutes/ Mixture should be extremely stiff/ Carefully fold in the pistachio cornstarch mixture.
Spread out on the buttered parchment to create a rectangle of about 12 x 15 inches/ Place whole pistachios here and there around the meringue/ Put in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 250 degrees and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes/ Perhaps less – check periodically. Meringue should be lightly browned and crunchy on the outside/ Remove from oven, let cool, crumble meringue that will be used immediately. Freeze the rest in chunks in zip lock bags. Use as needed/ Plan on about 1 C crumbled meringue per serving.
Ingredients & directions for the sour cherries: Skip the sour cherries if you wish and move on to the rhubarb recipe. Use plain whipped cream or add a little rhubarb sauce to whipped cream instead of cherries/ But, if you want to go there, 2 C sour cherries, 1/3 – 1/2 C sugar, 1/4 C water/ For varying amounts of cherries, plan on 3- 4 T sugar per cup/ Adjust sugar to personal taste, a little more or less/ 2 t orange or lemon zest optional – place 1 t in cooking mixture, reserve the rest for later/ Place ingredients in a small pot, bring to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes, until cherries are slightly softened/ Remove from heat. Juice will thicken as it cools.
When cool, use a slotted spoon to remove 2 C whole cherries from their syrup/Chop finely and set aside/ Reserve syrup and remaining cherries.
Ingredients & directions for the rhubarb sauce: In a separate pan, place 4 C of 1 or 2-inch pieces of rhubarb, 1 C sugar, 1/4 C water/ 2 t orange or lemon zest optional – place 1 t in cooking mixture, reserve the rest for later/ Bring to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes, turn heat off, cover with a lid and let sit for another 5 minutes/ Taste, add more sugar, cook a little longer if needed/Let cool/ Sauce thickens as it cools.
When cool, use a slotted spoon to remove whole pieces of rhubarb from their syrup/ Slice them thinly lengthwise if you choose, or use as is/ Place in a bowl and chill until ready to serve/ Reserve syrup.
Optional: Add 1/2 t cinnamon to rhubarb; add 2 or 3 T Cointreau to rhubarb and/or cherries after cooking is completed.
Ingredients & directions for the whipped cream: Whip 4 C cream until very stiff/ Gently stir in 1 C finely chopped cooked cherries, or add some of the rhubarb sauce as sweetener, or simply stir in 2 T superfine sugar/ Refrigerate at least an hour or up to 5 hours before serving.
So. The meringue is baked and crumbled, fruit is prepared, juices reserved, whipped cream is chilled. Most of this can be done well ahead of time.
To assemble: Crumble part of the baked and cooled meringue to make about 4 cups/ Place a generous spoonful of whipped cream on each serving plate, 1/2 C of the crumbled meringue, rhubarb and sauce, a little more whipped cream, another 1/2 C meringue pieces, and more rhubarb. Drizzle with a spoonful of rhubarb or cherry syrup, a few more crumbs of meringue . . . and so on.
Do a pirouette à la Anna Pavlova, and leap in. Heavenly. Nine of us momentarily suspended conversation tonight while we each quietly savored our rhubarb Pavlovas. Pretty sure they do that in Australia too. Out of respect.
The even better news. In just a few weeks this deconstructed Pavlova can be made with seasonal berries, starting with strawberry and raspberries, and without sugar or cooking. Rhubarb and sour cherries make for an excellent spring or early summer, sour fruit based Pav, but use whatever fruit is in season. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, figs . . . no need to cook and sweeten any of these. Slice the fruit, or not, add a smidge of sugar if you like, fill a plate or bowl with a mix of fruit – as is traditional with Pavlova – sprinkle with meringue and place a dollop of whipped cream on top, then a little more meringue. Or, arrange according to your own whim and make an original culinary homage to summer.