It’s officially Summer (yay!) although it still feels like Spring here in the Maritimes. A good indicator that we might be leaving the cold behind is the sighting of fresh, local strawberries. I spotted them at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, Pete’s and other grocery retailers over the weekend. I grew up in the country and there were always chores both indoors and outdoors that had to be done (insert whine here). But one I liked the best was picking wild strawberries in my grandparent’s fields – a little for me, a little for the box. My siblings and I would pick so that my paternal grandmother could make her strawberry jam; a favorite my grandfather enjoyed. As I got older, I used to go to u-pick farms and continue my tradition – a little for me, a little for the box. I don’t have the yearning as I did to pick my own but I do take delight in seeing the first strawberries of the season. Still fresh on my mind of the Eton Mess I made a couple of weeks ago, I decided that these local strawberries deserved a bit of attention and made strawberry pavlova. Pavlova is basically a meringue cake with a delicate crust and marshmallow center. Once the cake is made, softly whipped cream and fresh fruit is added. It’s a dessert that each component can be made ahead of time and assembled at the last moment.
Serves 6 to 8
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cornstarch (corn flour)
3/4 cup superfine (castor) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 pint strawberries (or more), hulled and sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or according to taste
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whipped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300f. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and using a dinner plate draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper (flip parchment over). Place strawberries and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
In a large bowl beat egg whites (using a balloon whisk attachment) on medium speed until soft peaks are formed. Add sugar a tablespoon at a time and continue to beat on high speed until thick and glossy. The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks. Sprinkle in cornstarch, vinegar, vanilla and gently fold into the meringue (the vanilla and vinegar will give the pavlova a crust that is crisp with a soft marshmallow center). Pinch some of the meringue between your thumb and finger and rub it. It should feel silky not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers. And don’t worry about over-beating the meringue; once the sugar is added you can’t over-beat it.
Spoon mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Working from the center, spread mixture toward the outside edge. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, open the door ajar, and allow meringue to cool in the oven. Once cool, place pavlova on a serving dish, spoon over whipped cream and top with the strawberries.
The Culinary Chase’s Note: Separate the eggs when cold but let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating. Superfine sugar dissolves faster than granulated sugar. If you don’t have superfine sugar in your pantry, use a food processor until process until powdery. Make sure the bowl (and whisk) you use is ultra clean. Any residue of fat/grease no matter how miniscule will cause the egg whites to deflate. Use a glass or stainless steel bowl but never a plastic one as it can harbor traces of hidden fat from previous uses.