Apart from rugby, cricket and the occasional jibe about each other’s idiosyncracies, the other contentious issue between Australia and New Zealand lies with the ownership of a dessert – the Pavlova. Created in honor of the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who visited the region in the earlier years of the 20th century, the combination of meringue, whipped cream and fruits is, according to my friend S, “a good combination…you get a bit of everything, and depending on the fruits, (the flavor is) sometimes sweet but also tangy”.
Regardless of who created the dish or its nationality, you would need to be a genius to make an unappetizing dessert out of meringue and whipped cream. In this Australasian remake, the M & W twins conspire to bestow an airy, ballerina-like character on this dessert which has captured the hearts and minds of countless dessert lovers around the world. While I’ve not tasted many pavlovas in my life, I do remember the huge version I encountered at a hen party, ostentatiously topped with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. Besides being utterly delicious, what stayed with me from that tasting was the play of textures between the crisp meringue, soft crunch of the strawberries and the luscious silk of the whipped cream. It was, as S put it, a little bit of everything.
So when I came across this recipe for six servings of gingered peach pavlovas, I knew I had to give it a try.
First poached and then left to soak up every ounce of ginger goodness in a simple syrup, these peaches are a great twist on a traditional recipe, providing a spicy undertone to an otherwise sweet and tangy combination. With my first bite, I started dressing up ice-cream sundaes and panna cottas in my mind with tender slices of the golden fruit.
Like the profiteroles, I had always perceived pavlovas to be part of the realm of the experienced pastry chef in a four-starred restaurant. I’m glad to report that it’s anything but! All the components can be prepared ahead of time and assembled and chilled just before serving. It’s the perfect way to round off a brunch feast in the backyard, watching summer slip away as you dig into the last few peach harvests of the season before Fall arrives.
Gingered Peach Pavlovas (adapted from Bon Appétit magazine, August 2009)
Makes 6 servings
Be sure to use the ripest peaches you can get your hands on and bathe them in the ginger syrup as long as you can (overnight is best) for maximum flavor.
½ cup icing sugar, divided into 1½ tablespoons and 6½ tablespoon portions
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or lemon juice or white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 250F/ 130C and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or Silpat. Mix the cornstarch with 1½ tablespoons sugar and set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar (or its substitutes) until soft peaks form. Beat in the vanilla, then gradually beat in the rest of the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. When done, continue beating for 2 more minutes, until stiff peaks form. Sift the cornstarch and sugar mixture over the egg whites and gently fold in until incorporated.
Using two spoons, scoop the meringue into the prepared baking sheet, making a total of 6 mounds, leaving at least 2 inches between each mound to allow for expansion during baking. Using the back of a spoon, gently make an indentation in the center of each mound, forming each meringue into a ‘nest’, 3-inches wide.
Bake meringues until crisp and barely golden on the outside, but still soft on the inside, approximately 55 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the meringues to a rack and cool completely.
2 cups water
¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 ripe and firm large peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the peaches to the pan and remove from heat. Cool the syrup to room temperature, turning the peaches occasionally. Cover and chill until cold.
Berries and Topping:
½ cup fresh raspberries
½ cup fresh blackberries
½ cup chilled heavy whipping cream
½ tablespoon icing sugar
Add 4 tablespoons of the peach syrup to the berries and toss to coat. Beat the cream and 1½ tablespoons of sugar until soft peaks form.
Place a meringue on each plate, spoon whipped cream in the center of each mound, top with a spoonful of berries and 6 slices of peach wedges.