Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pavlova Nests

A few nights ago, a friend came over for dinner who has to follow a strict gluten free diet. There are so many great gluten free grain options that I never find this to be a challenge for the main course, but desserts can sometimes be tricky. I didn't want to make a flourless chocolate cake since they're often way too rich after a big dinner. I also wanted to do a little more than just some fruit and berries. Finally I remembered that I was looking at recipes for pavlova nests a couple months ago and decided to give them a try.

This was a great dessert option and we all loved it. I realize that smothering a meringue with cream is far from light and healthy, but it doesn't feel as heavy as a gluten free cake. Topping the cream with fresh berries bring a little tart kick to the sweet cream and meringue. I made my pavlova nests about 3 heaping tablespoons  in size, but they expanded more that I thought they would during baking. This gives you a bigger surface to decorate with berries, but using just 2 tablespoons would be sufficient and leave you with a more miniature sized dessert.

What I love about a pavlova is that you can really use any fruit or berry combination on top. The texture of a pavlova is different from a regular meringue. The exterior is crunchy, but the inside has a marshmallow-like consistency. If you want to make these ahead of time, bake the meringues up to a day or 2 ahead of time, but only add the cream and berries/fruit at the last minute. Preparing the whole pavlova before you need it will make the meringue soggy.

Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 10 pavlova nests (or one 9" pavlova)

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
fruit of choice, cut into small pieces, or berries

Preheat oven to 300F/150C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat (sprinkle with extra cornstarch if you're worried about it sticking). If making one large pavlova, draw a 9" round circle on a piece of parchment paper. Turn it over and place it on your baking sheet. This will be your guideline to filing in with the pavlova mixture. If making mini pavlovas, there's no need to do anything, unless you want perfect circles.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl just until stiff. Add the sugar gradually, one tablespoon at a time. Beat well after each additional spoonful until the egg whites are glossy (warning: over-beating can decrease the egg white's volume). Gently fold in the vanilla, lemon, and cornstarch.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons* of the mixture into mounds on the baking sheet, keeping each mound at least 2 inches from the other. Work from the middle and move some of the mixture to the outer edges, so there is a slight well in the middle (it will look a bit like a bird's nest).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The outside will be crispy and the inside will have a gooey, marshmallow like consistency. Turn oven off and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and allow the pavlovas to cool in the oven.

In a small bowl whip up the heavy whipping cream. Feel free to add a little sugar if you prefer it sweeter. When the pavlovas have cooled, remove them from the parchment paper very carefully and fill the centers with cream. Top with berries or fruit of your choice. I used berries and cherries, but any type of fruit suits this dessert.

*If only using 2 tablespoons, you'll need to decrease the baking time.

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