A Pavlovian Dessert

As the weather warms up, I am increasingly challenged to find desserts that won't break my caloric bank or make me feel like I ate a horse.

So when I came home from my newest New Braunfels Farmers Market this weekend (where I sold out of oodles of Cowgirl Granola, thank you!) with two gorgeous pints of homegrown strawberries, I scratched my head wondering what I could possibly make that would be light and tasty and still ├╝ber-delicious.

No to ice cream or frozen yogurt, since I made that a few weeks ago.

No to pound cake, since I'm not eating gluten.

No to strawberry shortcake, ditto. Although if I could find a recipe for gluten-free shortcake, I would be all over that!

And then I remembered these heavenly puffs of meringue called Pavlovas that I have made before which impressed our dinner guests to no end. They are absolutely spectacular, super simple and low in calories! Bingo, this recipe had my name written all over it.

All I needed was four egg whites, check. Sugar, check. Cream of tartar. Oops...threw the container out a few months ago which I had had since the early 90's, so off David went to the store to score some fresh cream of tartar.

I probably could have made the recipe without it by adding some salt, but since cream of tartar is a much better stabilizer than salt, it was required in order to have a chewy-crunchy meringue.

Keep in mind that egg whites are easier to separate when they are cold, but they are easier to make meringue with when they are at room temperature. And since there are no yolks involved in this recipe, I don't use farm fresh eggs for these little pillows of perfection, but just the best grocery store eggs I can find. The dogs, Nacho and Guero, will eat the leftover yolks for breakfast one day this week with some sauteed potatoes and possibly even some homemade corn tortillas.

So the next time you come home with fabulous berries or another perfectly ripe fruit, mascerate them in a little sugar, let them sit at room temperature so the juices are extracted, and whip up these impressive, yet heart-healthy meringues.

You're sure to get Pavlovian responses from these Pavlovas!

Buen provecho!

Pavlovas with Fruit
Mildly adapted from a May 2008 recipe in Food & Wine

Print Recipe

Makes 6

If you are not a fan of coconut, just leave it out, but I love the chewy texture and flavor it adds to the meringue. Actually, I add the coconut to the last half of the meringue once I have made three plain "nests" as I call them since you'll create a nest-like well in the center of each where you can place a scoop of sorbet, fresh berries, mangos, kiwis, peaches or any other creative add-in you see fit. These are wonderfully airy and yet unbelievably satisfying desserts that are best eaten the day they are made. And if that means I need to eat two, so be it!

4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 pints strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or 2 mangos, 2 peeled kiwis, 4 peaches or a combination of berries or fruit (first clean and, if necessary, slice the fruit. Depending on their inherent sweetness, add a little sugar and let them sit at room temperature for an hour or two so the juices are extracted. Stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray it with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, or using your Kitchen-Aid mixer, beat the egg whites on low speed until they are frothy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium.

Once the eggs are meringue-like, begin adding the sugar 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the meringue is thick and glossy. To test it, you'll want to stick your finger in the meringue and rub it between your fingers. If it's grainy, keep beating but if it's smooth it's ready. This should take about 8-12 minutes.

Then beat in the vanilla extract and fold in the shredded coconut now if you are going to make them all with coconut or wait until you've made three "nests" and then add the coconut.

Scoop the meringue into six 3 1/2" mounds on the prepared baking sheet. Using the back of a spoon, make a 1 1/2" well in the center of each meringue.

Bake the meringues in the center of the oven for about an hour or more, until they are lightly golden and still chewy on the inside.

(Important note: The level of humidity in the air will determine whether you need to cook these longer or not. I needed to cook mine closer to 2 hours to get them just right, and I lowered the temperature to 225 degrees after the first hour. You want them toasty and textured on the outside, but not soft and spongy. Soft and spongy means they need more cooking time.)

Remove from the oven and let cool.

When ready to serve, top with a scoop of sorbet, berries or whatever fruit you have prepared.

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