Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lavender Pavlova Loveliness

I am feeling incredibly big-hearted and wish that I had the means to make you all a Lavender Pavlova right now. What could be lovelier than lighter-than-air meringues topped with whipped cream and fresh berries? Actually, I’ll tell you what’s even lovelier: LAVENDER-scented meringues topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and berries that have been tossed with delicately perfumed lavender sugar. This is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and I feel that it is my sacred duty to share the recipe with you just in time for Valentine’s Day. I know that most people think of decadent chocolate desserts when it comes to V-Day, but I think that you could win the heart of anyone you desired if you served him or her this Lavender Pavlova.

The Pavlova is a traditional Australian dessert, allegedly created by a prominent Australian chef in honor of the great ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured Australia and New Zealand in the late 1920s. The foundation of this confection is a crisp meringue disk, presumably resembling the shape of a ballerina’s tutu, and it is a study in textural contrasts as it is traditionally topped with softly whipped cream and fresh fruit. It is ridiculously easy to make, provided that you have an electric mixer for beating the egg whites into a billowy cloud, as well as the patience to wait for the meringue to bake in a low-temperature oven.

I went to a spectacular dinner thrown by my friends Roger and Vicki on Monday night, and I’m still grinning my head off thinking about the whole evening. We were a very spirited party of eight, and the meal proper warrants its own separate blog post, for it would be an understatement to say that the food was simply stunning. The centerpiece of the dinner was an incredible Australian rack of lamb, which Roger cooked to absolute perfection. My eyes are practically rolling back in my head thinking about the tender meat encrusted with a mixture of Dijon mustard, goat cheese and panko bread crumbs, and the polenta and ratatouille served with it were the perfect counterparts. But I digress.

In typical fashion, I was asked to bring dessert to the party, which is how I came to whip up my Lavender Pavlovas earlier this week. Not only did they tie in nicely with the Australian lamb in terms of national origin, I also thought that this cloud-like dessert would be the perfect counterbalance after a rich main course. And like so many of my favorite recipes, this one takes simple ingredients and creates a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. What's not to love about that?

The traditional Pavlova is usually topped with a mixture of sliced kiwi, berries and passion fruit pulp. But I opted for just blackberries and wild blueberries, both of which combine beautifully with the lavender flavor. (Yes, I know that berries aren’t in season right now, but I unapologetically used frozen berries to great effect!) I had fun assembling my Pavlovas with the luxury of counter space, something I have very little of in my own kitchen, and the conversation was as bubbly as the prosecco we drank with dessert. I felt especially proud when these Pavlovas met with the hearty approval of Alissa, the lone Australian in our group.

You really could make this recipe without the lavender and it would still be a winner. Although honestly, why would you want to do that?! I am completely smitten with this lavender version, so unless you are allergic to lavender or you live in a place where you absolutely cannot find the dried flower buds, I encourage you to try this and share it with someone you love. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve had several informal marriage proposals over the years after serving people this heavenly dessert. It’s THAT good.

Adapted from a recipe in The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld.

Make sure that your beaters and bowl are perfectly clean and free of any grease so that the egg whites will whip to maximum volume. It’s also important to let the meringues cool completely inside the oven after they’ve finished baking, ensuring that they will be shatteringly crisp on the outside while still slightly chewy inside.

In the summer I make this dessert with fresh berries, but because it’s the dead of winter right now, I combined frozen organic blackberries with tiny frozen wild blueberries. I tossed them with lavender sugar and let them thaw at room temperature, and I had no complaints. I love the Wyman’s brand of frozen wild blueberries, and Trader Joe’s also has tiny wild blueberries in their freezer section.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon white vinegar

1 cup blackberries (thawed, if using frozen)
1 cup frozen wild blueberries, thawed
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a round 3-1/2 inch cookie cutter or ring mold to trace four circles on the parchment paper. Turn the paper over so that the circles will still be visible but the pencil marks will not touch the meringues.

Combine the sugar and lavender buds in a food processor and process until ground very finely, about 30 seconds. Measure out ½ cup of lavender sugar for the meringues, reserving the rest to use later for sweetening the berries and cream.

Make the meringues by beating the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Very gradually add the ½ cup of lavender sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat the egg whites until stiff and shiny. Sift the cornstarch over the egg white mixture and add the vinegar, very carefully folding in so as not to deflate the egg whites.

Spoon the meringue mixture equally over the four circles drawn on the parchment paper, using a small offset spatula to spread evenly, making a slight depression in the centers. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 300°. Bake for 1 hour. When done, turn off the oven and leave the door slightly ajar, allowing the meringues to cool completely inside the oven. (The meringues can be baked a day in advance and stored in a resealable plastic bag at room temperature.)

Combine the thawed blackberries and wild blueberries in a medium mixing bowl with half of the remaining lavender sugar, tossing well to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, whip the cream with the remaining lavender sugar until soft peaks are formed. Place each meringue on a plate, topping generously with the lavender whipped cream and piling the berries and their juices on top.

Serves 4.

Ed, who was just about to experience his first Lavender Pavlova, had an even bigger smile on his face after that first bite!


Ed Valentine said...

I can testify to the fact that this dessert is.... heavenly. In fact, after I actually TASTED the Pavlova, I myself dissolved into a happy lavender mist. Bravo, Louise!

elenfly said...

I like much the Pavlova for Valentine's Day and I did. I had not seen your own version, I think you have the perfect fix.Bravo!!