pavlova: perfect, but not quite

It frustrates me that a meringue is not as simple as its recipe. There are just three ingredients: egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar, but getting the proper height is the challenge. I have my theories.  The first time I tried this (Nigella’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova) I thought the lack of height was due to the fact I’d used packaged egg whites. Now although I am using fresh egg whites they are not rising high enough so now I think I didn’t whip them long enough to get them truly stiff.

I  heated the oven to 250˚F then I made the meringue. First I prepared a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Using an 8″ cake pan bottom as a template, I traced a circle in the middle of the paper with a black marker and turned it upside down on the tray. Then I set it aside for later.  I got together the ingredients for the meringue:

4 egg whites, separated when cold then brought to room temperature (about 30 minutes)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine (caster) sugar

Cake Baker’s Note: The bowl and beaters must be absolutely free of grease and there must be no yolk in the egg whites or they will not whip up.

I whipped the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. On high speed, I  added the cream of tartar and whipped the mixture until soft peaks formed. This means when I raised the beaters, the peaks flopped over. I continued whipping while adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until the egg whites became satiny smooth and glossy, forming stiff peaks. I was afraid to overbeat them so I stopped after a few minutes. I remember reading somewhere to beat egg whites for a meringue for at least 10 minutes. I will have to try that another time.

I scraped the meringue into a mound in the center of the circle, making the edges slightly higher than the center. Then I put it in the oven between 60 and 75 minutes (an hour and 10 minutes for me) until it formed a hardened shell that was pale cream in color. I turned off the heat and let the meringue cool in the oven with the door closed for at least 2 hours. Then I carefully removed the paper and let it finish cooling on a wire rack while I prepared  the topping:

1 half-pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (optional)
1 pint raspberries (or any kind of berries, kiwi fruit, mangoes, passion fruit–whatever inspires you!)

I made the meringue according to the very helpful directions (with pictures) on How to Make Meringue. This meringue inside was intensely sweet and puffy like a marshmallow, the outside was wafer-brittle and crisp.  The “marshmallow” had height this time but there was  yet still a dome of air above it enclosed by a crisp thin shell. So when I put the whipped cream on top, the delicate shell shattered and wafer-thin shards fell on top of the marshmallow beneath. We scooped it up anyway and ate it with raspberries, crackling and all. It was delicious. Such contrast of taste and texture: intensely sweet marshmallow-y meringue, crisp wafer shell, with the light taste of cream and the tang of raspberry.

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