I have never been a huge fan of meringue. I tolerate the Italian meringue on my favorite chocolate pie, but meringue cookies and most meringue toppings are some of my least favorite things. That is at least what I thought was the case until I had Pavlova at a friend’s house for dessert one evening. Pavlova is a meringue cake that has a light, delicate and crisp crust along with a soft sweet marshmallow center. They are normally served with whipped cream and fresh fruit. These flavors really come together in a way I hadn’t expected. Pavlova seems to be a kind of paradox as is simultaneously light and delicate while still being rich and satisfying.
There was just something about this cloud like dessert that had me wanting more. After having the dessert, I decided to try my hand at making them and it turned out horribly. It was reminiscent of those meringue cookies I so much hated. Dry and crunchy. I was missing the soft marshmallow like chewy center. I had almost given up on ever making the dessert again, but for some reason on Valentine’s Day I decided to give it one more try. I searched and searched and finally found a recipe that I thought would work. It called for folding in the vinegar and cornstarch to insure the marshmallow like center. I was pleased to find that this attempt turned out much more pleasing. I no longer was getting the cracked crunchy meringues, but now was getting the pillowy like clouds with the marshmallow like center.
If you are looking for something from the ordinary give these meringue cakes a try.
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar (either use superfine sugar or pulse granulated sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
Preheat oven to 250 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Once the soft peaks are formed start adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat, on high speed, until the meringue holds very stiff and shiny peaks. (You can test to see if the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger. The meringue should feel smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers). Once the meringue is stiff, shiny and the mixture is no longer gritty beat in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold in. You are now ready to add the meringue to your baking sheet.
Divide the meringue mixture into 6 equal circles (3-4 inches in diameter) on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Smooth the edges and indent the middle just a bit. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.) If you want one large pavlova spread the meringue in the middle of the baking sheet on the parchment paper in a large circle, smoothing the edges and making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center just as you do with the individual sized ones.
*If you prefer you can trace circles on the parchment paper to make dividing the meringue easier. Just make sure to turn the writing side of the parchment paper to the bottom. You will still be able to see the circles but the writing is on the opposite side.
Bake for about 60 minutes or until the outside is dry and is a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)
Cooled pavlovas may be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
When ready to serve top with whipped cream and fresh fruit. I like to also add either lemon curd or pureed fruit.