Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pavlova (and some math)

I whipped up a spaghetti alla carbonara the other night for the girls, and once again found myself with three egg whites that I had no idea what to do with. I could have used them in an omelette, of course, but as you may have gleaned from the other posts in this blog, an egg white omelette is not exactly my style. What to do?

Gwyneth Paltrow to the rescue! I recently purchased her new cookbook, and was going through it to mark the recipes I want to try when I came across her recipe for pavlova. This dessert is basically baked egg whites, is super simple to prepare, and also happens to be delicious. I was in business! Incidentally, the cookbook is great. I originally purchased it because of the title: My Father's Daughter. As you may know, I'm a dad with daughters who wants to instill in his girls a love of food and cooking. The book naturally seemed like a good fit. In fact, I was really surprised just how personal and genuine the text is, and really enjoyed reading the accounts of Ms. Paltrow's memories of her dad, their meals, and the cooking they did together. I'd recommend the book for that alone, but it also has a stack of stellar recipes in there.

Pavlova was created in the 1920s to honour the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. There is some debate as to whether the creator was Australian or from New Zealand. I'm not touching that debate, but I have seen a pavlova with kiwis on it -- just sayin'.

Now for the math. The recipe calls for 4 egg whites. My carbonara recipe always leaves me with 3. I didn't want to add another one, since I'd then be stuck with an egg yolk and wouldn't have really solved anything with this whole enterprise (beam me up!). So I just multiplied everything in the recipe by 3/4 and was off to the races. So, you'll need three egg whites, 3/4 of a pinch of salt (I know, I'm hilarious), a little less than 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar, 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar (or 9/16 cup of sugar if you prefer -- neat that a tablespoon is 1/16 of a cup though), 3/4 tablespoon of cornstarch, and a little less than 1/2 tsp of vanilla. The blueberries and whipping cream are for the topping later (mmm...). Heat your oven to 350  ̊̊F now.

I never seem to have white vinegar in the house, so I used this stuff instead: vinegar made out of maple syrup. How cool is that? I love it in salad dressings, and figured the little boost of flavour could only make the pavlovas better.

The first step is to put the egg whites, vinegar, and salt in a mixing bowl and start whipping them up. Go full blast until you get soft peaks.

Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch and sugar together -- if your cornstarch has gotten a little lumpy get your fingers in there to break it up. Add the sugar mixture to the egg whites in thirds, stirring to fully incorporate each time.

Finally, put the vanilla in there and crank the mixer up again until you get stiff peaks (or peak, as the case may be) on the egg whites.

Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet and spoon the batter out into 6 rounds (the full recipe gets you 8). Flatten the meringues into circles, and put an indentation in the middle of each one while you're sculpting them. Put them in the 350  ̊F oven for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 200  ̊̊F and bake them for one hour.

After an hour they should be a nice golden colour. Turn off the heat, prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon, and let them cool in the oven for another hour (this is a good day to make chicken stock since it keeps you puttering around near the kitchen too). Gwyneth specifically mentions the spoon in the door trick. My oven door will stay open by itself, but I think it stays open a little too much and would cool down too fast -- plus you never know if the door will get bumped into and closed by accident, so best to go with the spoon in the door plan. This is also a good idea if you have some kind of zealous door closer in your house. (Note, this is a nice way to warm up the kitchen on a cold November morning!)

When you're ready to eat, gently remove the meringues from the parchment paper and dress them up with some whipped cream and fruit. Gwyneth recommend blueberries, and I couldn't agree more. Strawberries would be great too. You could even use kiwis....

Egg whites could meet no finer fate. Приятного аппетита!


  1. This will also work well with some German sour cherries (Sauerkirschen)

  2. Oooh! I have some of those in the fridge. Genius!