Passion Fruit Pavlova

Okay, what’s your longest interval between clipping a recipe and actually making it? For me, this one’s a record. It’s been absolutely years since culinary school, when I filed this recipe, fully intending to give it a quick whirl … and then I don’t know what happened. Sixteen years, I guess.  Many (many) desserts later … .

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I’m a huge fan of pavlova, which is like a big fluffy pile of soft meringue whose center divot holds a puddle of whipped cream and some marinated fruit. (Properly, the fruit should spill lusciously over the sides.) Every time I’ve had pavlova, the meringues were cooked until soft and crackly; they crumbled into the cream, dissolved in the fruit, and on the tongue. They were good. But I kept hearing about these other kinds of meringues, slightly under-baked ones, meringues with soft marshmallow centers, and chewier edges. And I dreamed of those.

This recipe was for the latter, the gooey ones that have always eluded me. When I made them I realized that not only was this a delicious paradox of a dessert—both swoony and super-light at the same time—it was dead-stinking easy to make.

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If you have an electric mixer, the only skill in this entire operation is holding back on the sugar. Be patient. Add it as the recipe says, just a few swishes at a time. This way, the sugar actually melts into the whipped egg whites, making for glossier whites, and at the end, a plusher, chewier meringue base.

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I love the texture of the unbaked meringue fluff; you could give it to a three-year-old and they’d be mesmerized for hours. It has stiffness to it, and resistance and strength, but absolutely no weight to it. I feel like I could use it to spackle things around the house. Amazing. As directed, I plopped out two blobs from my ice cream scooper, one on top of the other like I was making a double cone, and then smashed them together to make the center pothole.

Once baked, they look nearly the same, but more relaxed. You tip them carefully off the cornstarch-dusted parchment and hold one in your hands and it is as light and as fragile as a tiny hollowed-out porcelain figurine and, in fact, exactly like the tiny white porcelain bird my mom set in the fake nest on the mantle every Easter.

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You could use any fruit to top these, but passionfruit is the traditional Australian garnish for pavlova. As you might have guessed, I did not buy these fresh passionfruit at the grocery store in downtown Park Rapids. By way of my TV show, sometimes (not on a daily, or even weekly basis or anything, but once in a while) people now send me things. And so when the nice people at Melissa’s Produce asked me what I wanted to try, I asked for the moon. I said, “fresh passionfruit?” I have absolutely no idea what season they belong to, or if we were in it, because I was in the grip of a daydream that stretched back to the time I cooked in New York kitchens, where these round purple globes were as common as apples. For an avowed sour-fiend such as myself, this is the fruit for me. It’s tartness is up-front—tingly-sour, not shy, and really fruity. It has bouquet and fragrance, too, not unlike a really wonderful white wine.

So I asked for them, these rare fruits, and they landed—traveling across continents and possibly through time—on my porch.

I stuck the dark purple skin of the passion fruit—which also felt, curiously, light for their size—with the tip of my paring knife, ripped them open, and scraped out the seeds. They crunch in the teeth, feeling lighter than the seeds of pomegranate and bigger than those in a raspberry, but they’re definitely edible. But I wanted lots of sauce. So I decided to strain most of the seeds out, add some sugar to the puree, along with a bit of water and enough cornstarch slurry to thicken. I added a lump of butter and let it cool, making kind of a cheater’s quick curd.

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I carefully portioned up the sauce, the seeds, the whipped cream, and five of the most beautiful of the meringues to take to a dinner party that night, and then I made one up: meringue, cream, passionfruit sauce, seeds. Just for kicks, and to take its picture. I intended to let it sit around for Hank to eat later, but I couldn’t stay away. I crushed it. It was like my spoon was stuck on repeat.

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I think it was the chewy center, which was even better than I imagined it would be. Or maybe the soft ploof of cream hitting the crumbling dry outside of the meringue. Or maybe the sour sauce slicking it all, or the crunch of those seeds. Either way, tart fruits are made for this dessert. Looking around, at what I have on hand, I’m dreaming about filling those creamy-crunchy meringues with hot pink baked rhubarb.

Recipe after the jump.

Passionfruit Pavlova 

by Nicky Major

For the Meringue:

Scant 3/4 cup egg whites (from 5 large eggs), totally yolk-free

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

pinch salt

1 2/3 cups superfine sugar*

5 teaspoons cornstarch, more for the baking sheet

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Filling: 

2 cups whipping cream, chilled

1 tablespoon sugar or honey

12 passionfruit, more or less, or 3 cups mixed seasonal berries, macerated with a bit of sugar and the juice of a lemon or lime

*If you don’t have superfine sugar, just pulse sugar in a food processor for a minute, and measure it afterward.

Position the oven rack just below the middle of the oven, and preheat to 275 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment, sticking down the corners with dabs of honey. Dust the sheet with cornstarch to help the meringue come off easily after baking.

Run a large, stainless-steel mixing bowl under hot water to warm it. Dry the inside thoroughly, add the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt.

Whip the whites at medium-high speed until they’re stiff and start to pull away from the sides of the bowl; they’ll look like they’re about to separate. Immediately start adding the superfine sugar by sprinkling it in slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time; incorporating the whole 1 2/3 cups should take about 10 minutes. Combine the cornstarch with the last 2 tablespoons sugar and add them together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, continue whipping, and slowly add the vinegar and vanilla. Whip for another few minutes. The mixtures should be extremely glossy and fluffy.

For individual pavlovas, use a 3-oz. ice-cream scoop and stack two scoops, snowman-style, for each one. Make a depression in the center.

To bake, put the pavlovas in the heated oven and immediately turn down the heat to 250 degrees F. Bake, without opening the door for at least the first 45 minutes, until they’re crisp and dry looking on the outside with just a hint of ivory color.

Top with a hefty plume of whipped cream, and passionfruit sauce, made to taste as directed above, or fresh, macerated fruit

– See more at: http://amyrosethielen.tumblr.com/post/88495208092/passion-fruit-pavlova#sthash.ZlqiTXHh.dpuf

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