One would have no idea summer is winding down here in D.C. The heat and humidity loping through the campus turn us all lethargic and in need of a dunk in the ocean. Alas, schoolwork and projects beckon, and rather than exercise my need for R&R, I’ve settled on food as an escape.
Not entirely surprising, is it ?
In any case, PEACHES have been my ambroisia of oubli, and with a weekly farmer’s market, they aren’t difficult to procure. Most recently, I re-made Nora Ephron’s Peach Pie (click the link for the recipe), and it disappeared in a day. This is the problem with having roommates: as the cook, you want to share ! But BAMPOOFPOW – it’s all gone ! It’s definitely “bittersweet,” shall we say. In any case, before I left my little town, I attended our local peach festival (yes, we have one of those) with a friend of mine. While picking peaches, I declared that I would make SOMETHING with these gems that wasn’t a peach pie. This mixed fruit pavlova is the “fruit” of said declaration.
Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert that is very light and fruity. Because it’s all egg whites, there is no added fat (eg butter/oil), so if you are “reducin’,” as my grandmother would say, it’s a nice choice for dessert. Each pancake of meringue sits on a bed of whipped cream (you don’t need this part if you’re not partial to chantilly) and cut fruit (such as mixed berries, peaches, nectarines, plums, etc). Rather like a trifle, this dessert needs to be eaten the night you prepare it, or else it will get soggy. It’s an excuse to devour an entire treat in one sitting…right ? And it’s covered in fruit ! Fruit is healthy !
Grab some peaches before the season really ends and whip up (literally) this lesser-known dessert as one final tribute to the groove of summer.
For the meringue :
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp distillled white vinegar
3/4 cups egg whites (5 to 6 large eggs)
Directions : Preheat the oven to 275F with rack placed in the middle of the oven. Line three 8” round cake pans with parchment paper, dusting the sides with confectioners’ sugar.
Pulse the sugar, brown sugar, and constarch in a food processor until well combined. You can also whisk these ingredients together if you, like me, are often sans fancy kitchen appliances.
Stir together the vanilla and white vinegar. Don’t smell it…you won’t be pleased.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer (or your brute strength, however you like) until they hold soft peaks. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the sugar mixture 1 tbsp at a time. It doesn’t have to be a perfect tbsp – think of that measurement as a speedbump – as you just don’t want to add the sugar too quickly.
After all the sugar has been incorporated, beat for 1 minute more. Add the vinegar mixxture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stuff peaks: about five minutes. Spoon meringue into pans and smooth the tops. I used a pastry bag, but this is not at all necessary (unless you feel like a perfectionist).
Bake the meringues until they have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch – about 1 hour. Meringues may sink while cooling – but have no fear ! It just means more space for berries and cream !
Turn oven off, prop door open with a wooden spoon (or ruler tool), and cool the meringues for 1 hour in the oven. You want to keep them in a dry environment so that they don’t go all soggy…and the oven is the closest thing to the desert one has in a kitchen….except maybe for the brisker, but everyone knows briskers often carry a strange scent after re-crisping one too many boxes of crackers.
Run a knife around the edges of the cake pans and remove gently. MERINGUES ARE FRAGILE. BE CAREFUL. (But not too careful…because who doesn’t love to mop up the crumbs ?)
For the fruit topping :
2 white peaches
2 golden peaches
1-2 cups raspberries
1 cup blueberries (if desired)
A little liqueur – I like “peche” but cassis, chambord/framboise or a blueberry syrup would be delicious as well. Do not add sugar to the berries if you use a “berry” sweet liqueur (Brian, that one is for you).
This part is really quite simple: Peel the peaches (if desired) and cut them into sections.
You don’t need to cut them into smaller chunks, but I did simply because it makes the fruit more uniform. Place into a bowl and add the raspberries and blueberries. Give it a quick stir and drizzle some liqueur over the top, if desired.
For the whipped cream:
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
Sugar (just a tablespoon or two will do)
Vanilla – a dash
Whisk until thick, creamy, billowy, delicious, and…well…whipped ! I used an electric mixer and added the sugar just as the cream began to thicken.
Start by placing one layer of meringue on your cake plate. Place it flat side down – this will ensure overall stability of the pavlova palace you are about to craft.
On top of this, spread a nice layer of whipped cream. Top with berries (I forgot this step !)
Place the next layer of meringue on top and follow the same pattern : whipped cream followed by fruit.
Serve very soon after preparation as those meringues won’t last long surrounded by fruits. It may not be the most elegant dessert, but it is marvelously tasty.