Last week I made mini chocolate pavlovas, and unfortunately she was nowhere to be found. I spent hours trying to summon her, but she was likely out to lunch, eating something healthy - like a salad or a smoothie. Instead, I had to call over a friend and Mr. H to help me out. They were only too happy to oblige.
I had spent the afternoon in the kitchen, trying to create something new. A sweet light dessert with a crisp outer layer. I described it to Mr. H as a meringue, which immediately made him less interested, so I am going to describe it to you as a cross between a warm soft gooey flourless chocolate cake and a sweet soft macaron. Pavlova, named after a Russian ballet dancer, is a dessert consisting of a meringue cake as the base, topped with whipped cream and fruit. There is a lot of whipping involved in this recipe, so make sure that you understand the difference between soft and hard peaks, which is essential. My first attempt failed, but my second one was a success, and I only lost a small amount of pride in the process.
These homemade meringues are nothing like the crunchy store bought versions. They are marshmallowy soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Soft and delicate, layered with whipped cream and topped with a generous scoop of sweet fruit, they are interlaced with beauty and grace.
MINI CHOCOLATE PAVLOVAS WITH POMEGRANATE AND BERRIES RECIPE (print)
makes 6 small pavlovas
recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson
notes: It is important to use a good balsamic vinegar. Something sweet and thick. I used a good quality bittersweet chocolate (65% solids), but feel free to use something higher. You can substitute any fruit for the compote. Whatever is in season.
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
2 tbsp coca powder
1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 tbsp corn starch
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup raspberries
2 cups strawberries, quartered
1 pomegranate, seeded
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp confectioners sugar
Preheat the oven to 275ºF.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer, slowly start to beat the egg whites on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and continue beating until soft peaks have formed. At this point the egg whites will be foamy, and when you remove the whisk from the egg mixture they should stand up slightly and then fall over at the peak.
Continue beating on medium speed and slowly add a tbsp at a time of the superfine sugar. Wait 2 - 3 seconds after adding each tbsp, so that it can be fully incorporated; this will prevent it from turning out gritty. Continue adding the sugar only until stiff peaks have formed (stiff peaks may form after only adding 1/2 cup of the sugar - that's fine, do not add any more once stiff peaks have formed). You will know the mixture has formed stiff peaks when it is thick and shiny, with the consistency of melted marshmallow. If you remove the whisk and hold it upside down, the egg mixture should hold a stiff peak.
At this point, add the cocoa powder, balsamic vinegar, and chopped chocolate to the egg whites. Gently fold into the egg whites, being careful not to over-mix, or to mix too vigorously. It's important to keep the mixture light and airy.
With a 4 - 6 inch round marker (bowl, cup, cookie cutter) trace 6 circles onto a piece of parchment paper with a pencil. Place the parchment paper onto a baking sheet, pencil side down, and take a small dab of the pavlova mixture and fasten down each of the four corners to the baking sheet. Scoop the mixture into the 6 circles smoothing the outer edges, trying to form a circle.
Place the pan into the oven and bake for 60 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the oven door a crack. Let the pavlovas cool inside the oven for 30 minutes (a quick temperature change will cause the pavlovas to fall). Once cool, remove from the oven and set to the side.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and corn starch on low heat, stirring so that no lumps form. Add the orange juice and stir into a slurry. Add the raspberry, strawberries, pomegranate seeds, and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir. Bring to a low boil on low-medium heat, and then continue cooking until the berries become soft, and the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and then let cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the heavy cream on medium-high speed until stiff peaks are just about to form. The mixture will be thick, but still slightly wet looking. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until stiff peaks have formed. Stiff peaks will form very quickly. The mixture will turn from being slightly wet and creamy to whipped cream consistency within seconds. The whipped cream should hold its shape in a spoon. Once this happens, turn the blender off, and do not over-mix. If you over-beat the mixture it will start to curdle into chunky lumps. No big deal though, just start over.
Place a pavlova onto a plate. Scoop some whipped cream on top and then a generous serving of the fruit mixture. Sprinkle a dusting of cocoa powder on top. The Pavlova can be made several days in advance of serving, if it is stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container. Once the cream and fruit is added to the pavlova it will start to soften and break down.