Sunday, 30 June 2013

Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova, Oh My

Never mind the Oh My, let’s focus on Oh Canada, instead, eh?  This dessert is fairly easy to prepare, and it makes a spectacular Canada Day dessert, what with the lovely reds and whites, and the fresh flavours.  If it’s the Fourth of July you’re celebrating, I’ve got some tips for you to Americanize this dessert so you can celebrate patriotically as well.

While this is an easy one, it does take some planning and organization.  Making the meringue the night before solves the logistics problems best.

The Meringue

6 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 ½  cups vanilla sugar (or plain if you don’t have)
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons vinegar 

Make sure your bowl and beaters are spotlessly clean.  When you separate the eggs, do them carefully, one at a time, being sure to pour each egg white into the mixing bowl before you crack the next egg.  If so much as a drop of yolk enters the whites, you need to start over, so waste not want not by cautiously pouring each white separately.
Add a pinch of salt to the whites in the mixing bowl, and put the beater on to slow speed.  Gradually increase the speed to medium high until the eggs start to get frothy.  Meanwhile, mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium size bowl, and place them handy to the mixer.  Also mix the vanilla and vinegar in a little bowl, and have that handy as well.

When the eggs are getting quite frothy, slowly add the sugar mix, while continuing to whip.  Once all the sugar is incorporated, turn the speed up to high and add the vanilla mix.  Whip for a few more minutes, till the whites are glossy and stiff.

For this family dessert, I made one big Pavlova.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spoon the whites into a big oval shape on the parchment paper.  Once all the whites are spooned onto the sheet, use the back of a serving spoon to smooth out a large crater, building up the walls.  The idea is to make a holding area for the Pavlova fillings. 

Bake at 250 F for an hour.  If it darkens or cracks, lower the temperature by 25 degrees.  (Mine always tans a smidge, and cracks do form.  Oh well, it's still magnificent!)

The Custard Filling  (First Topping)

3 tablespoons Bird’s Custard Powder
5 tablespoons vanilla sugar (plain if you don’t have it)
zest from half a lemon
2 ½ cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the custard powder, sugar, lemon zest and a small amount of the milk.  Whisk till it’s smooth.  Add the rest of the milk, and turn the heat on to medium.  Stir continually and watch it thicken.  Within about seven minutes, it will be thickening, and shouldn’t have that raw cornstarch taste anymore.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk the yolks in their bowl, and slowly drip a spoonful of the hot milk mix into the yolks, while whisking.  Continue to drip more and more hot milk mix into the yolks, whisking all the time.  The yolks will lighten.  When you can’t get any more milk into that bowl, transfer the yolk and milk mix back into the remainder of the hot milk mix in the saucepan, whisking all the while.  Put back on heat, and whisk till it’s boiling gently.  Remove from heat, stirring in vanilla and scrapings if you use them, and set aside.  Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

The Fruit  (Second Topping)

4 cups organic strawberries
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar (plain if you don’t have it)
¼ teaspoon rose water
1 cup fresh blueberries (optional)

Because this was a Canada Day dessert, I stuck to strawberries.  If I was making this dessert south of the border, I’d still use strawberries, but also a few blueberries placed artfully at the last minute.  Core and slice the strawberries.  Sprinkle the sugar and rosewater over the strawberries.  Toss gently and cover with plastic wrap.  Set aside.

The Whipped Cream (Last Topping)

1 cup heavy cream (around 35%)
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar (plain if you don’t have)  Hint, hint, make some vanillasugar soon.  You will love it.
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons rose syrup (optional)

Make sure your cream and utensils are cold.  I put the whisk into the freezer an hour before I use it.  Keeping these items cold is especially important if you're working in a hot kitchen.  Cream will suddenly turn to butter if the ingredients aren't chilled.  Whip on high speed.  As the cream thickens, slowly sprinkle in the sugar and continue to whip.  When peaks are beginning to form add the vanilla and whip till the cream peaks stay standing.   Better the cream is slightly too soft than to push it too far, as that will cause a disaster.

Finally, assemble this baby at the last minute.  Peel the parchment away from the meringue and place on a large platter.  Spoon the custard filling into the crater.  Spread the strawberries over the custard.  Arrange blueberries artfully if required.  Spoon whipped cream in sections over the dessert, so you can serve less rich versions to your sensible guests.  Finally, if you have it, dribble a line of rose syrup over the works. 

Here in Calgary, we'll be celebrating with an especially patriotic vigor this year.  Having endured unprecedented flooding, we're all a little in shock, but we are rallying, so celebrating well this year is an absolute must.  Happy July First every one, and to our American friends, you have a fabulous Fourth of July too!

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