Growing up, it was well-known among my friends that I loved to bake. It’s actually in my blood (but I’m saving that story for another post). Two of my best friends in high school, Julie and Vanessa, used to request meringues from me on almost a daily basis. I’ve even shipped them (although I wouldn’t recommend this, given their delicate nature.)
Meringue is just egg whites and sugar whipped until desired, but it has many iterations. It can appear as the fluffy topping on a lemon pie or banana pudding, or baked into a crackly cookie with a chewy, marshmallowy interior, studded with mini chocolate chips (Vanessa and Julie’s favorite). While whipping egg whites can be intimidating, (Firm? Glossy? Stiff? Soft?) it just takes a bit of practice. I’ve got some tips below to help. When I spied some very late-season rhubarb in the store the other day, I knew exactly the dessert I wanted to make: Rhubarb Strawberry Pavlova.
Ubiquitous in Australia (it’s the national dessert), Pavlova is actually named after Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina. It has three components: a wide, plate-sized base of meringue, topped with sweetened whipped cream, and fruit of some sort. Peaches, lemon curd, berries, you name it. I thought rhubarb might be a little tart on its own, so I picked up some strawberries, too. I already had eggs, so heavy cream was the only other ingredient I needed (with just cornstarch and sugar, it’s surprisingly pantry-friendly).
I needed a good, time-tested meringue base recipe, so I turned to one of my personal favorites: Ina Garten. Her food is elegant without being fussy, and always delicious. Adapted from her patriotic Mixed Berry Pavlova, Rhubarb Strawberry Pavlova is a sure winner.
- 4 extra-large egg whites at room temperature (separate eggs into a bowl and let sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes)
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 pint fresh strawberries hulled and halved (leave about 12 of your nicest halves out)
- 1 pound rhubarb sliced into 2 inch pieces
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- juice of half of a lemon
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 large mint leaves chiffonade (rolled up and sliced into ribbons)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees F.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. With a pencil, trace the outline of a 9-inch plate on the parchment, then flip it over. 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 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes. Firm means the peaks hold their shape, but the tips still flop over.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the cornstarch into 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 into a roughly 9-inch disc. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
While it is baking, combine the rhubarb and strawberries with the 1/4 cup of sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and simmer over low heat until fruit is tender but not mushy. Strain into a bowl (setting aside the syrup for the cocktail) and refrigerate the fruit mixture in a bowl until cool.
When the meringue is done, turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 2 hours. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. While it is cooling, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until fluffy and firm. Don't overbeat, or else you'll have butter.
When completely cool, loosen the parchment carefully by peeling it back and place meringue on a large plate. Spread the top completely with sweetened whipped cream. Spoon the fruit mixture carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue. Sprinkle with mint. Serve immediately.
When the rhubarb and strawberries simmer, the fruit releases quite a bit of liquid. If we poured that all over the meringue, it would disintegrate! Therefore, the straining of the fruit is imperative, as is the making of a cocktail (which I’ve dubbed the Rhub and Dub Dub, for lack of a better name) with the leftover syrup. It’s tart, but the sweetness of the St. Germain or Orgeat (I made them both) tempers the bite.
Rhub a Dub Dub
- 3 ounces gin
- 3 ounces rhubarb-strawberry syrup
- 1 ounce St. Germain or Orgeat syrup
- .5 ounce lemon juice
- Mint leaves for garnish
Mix ingredients in an ice-filled shaker.
Strain into two glasses.
Float with a mint leaf.