Monday, July 13, 2009

Pavlova – Two Ways (or Damn you Barefoot Contessa!)

It’s been intimated that J and I have some eating restrictions, me with the diabetes and J with dairy allergies as well as an allergy to artificial sweeteners. That makes dessert a huge challenge. I’ve resolved this challenge by making the same desserts two ways – one with Splenda and dairy (for me) and the other with sugar and dairy substitutes (for him). A good example of this is my cobbler recipe. I make a cobbler with almond flour in ramekins. I do a ¼ cup of almond flour with ½ teaspoon of baking powder and 1 tablespoon of sugar and then mix in 1 tablespoon of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of almond milk and a dash of vanilla. Spoon on top of about ½ a cup of chopped fruit (stone fruit like cherries and nectarines work best) and bake for half an hour at 350 degrees. For myself, all I need to do is replace the sugar with the equivalent amount of Splenda and I’m set.

Sunday, J and I were going to Muffin and June’s for a BBQ with Bellisima and West Coast Rebecca. Being summertime in the bay area, I decided to try my hand at pavlova. For those of you who don’t know palvova, it’s a meringue shell that is mashmallowy in the middle. It’s cratered in the middle as well so people traditionally pile it high with fruit and whipped cream. Perfect dessert to highlight summer fruit. Like the cobbler, I decided to make a version for me (whipped cream and splenda) and a version for J (lemon curd and sugar). Because you can freeze the pavlova ahead of time, I tried my hand at pavlova on Friday night. For the first time Ina Garten did me WRONG. I made her Back to Basics it failed. What I got was a gloppy mess of a meringue that was more the consistency of a meringue topping for a lemon meringue pie. Never a waster, I decided to fold in the lemon curb to the failed meringue to lighten the lemon curd.

The next morning I did a little research (Nigella!) and saw that every OTHER cookbook was saying to bake the pavlova at 300 degrees as opposed to the 180 that Ina instructed. I did the whole shebang again using the Barefoot Contessa recipe but using the oven temperature of Nigella Lawson (preheat to 350 and when you put it in, immediately drop temp to 300). It was a huge success. I tried it again using baking Splenda, and another HUGE SUCCESS! So in one pavlova there were raspberries and blackberries over lemon curd and another pavlova there were the same berries over whipped cream sweetened with Splenda. In fact, Muffin, who ate both versions, liked the Splenda version. SCORE!

So here’s my sugar-free version of a pavlova. To make it low-fat, simply use low-fat (or even nonfat cool whip).

• 2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
• Pinch kosher salt
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoons cornstarch
• 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 5-inch circle on the paper, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. (This way you won't get a pencil mark on the meringue.)
Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2-3 more minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Place in oven, immediately turn down to 300 dgrees and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
Invert the meringue disk onto a plate. There will be a cracked crater of delciciousness that is perfect for lemon curd, whipped cream or just fruit and a dash of some old balsamic.

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