mixed berry and chocolate pavlova from our cook-out
So we had a cook-out last weekend, and boy, did it ever rain! No matter. The rain did not dissuade anyone from having a good time. Fortunately for us, Mr. and Mrs. B go to a lot of festivals and own their own festival tent (thanks, guys!). Earlier in the day, when it was still nice out, we put that baby up over the grill, and we had a nice covered outdoor area for cooking (and for the smokers, although after the temperatures started to drop dramatically, said smokers retreated to our garage).
We made what I thought was a ton of food (and Mr. and Mrs. B brought some too), which everyone descended on like fiends, and it was with surprise and delight when, at the end of the night, we realized we not only had no food left, but the kitchen was spankin’ clean. A lot of folks helped clean up, and I thought that was really sweet of everyone.
For dessert, the boy made Bananas Foster to order, as a group watched and cheered when the rum flamed up. I made a version of Nigella Lawson’s chocolate-berry pavlova which I hadn’t made in probably 5 or 6 years, so I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. I needn’t have worried, as there was not one crumb of it left. It’s the easiest thing to do in the world, just a bunch of assembling at the last minute. This was so well-received, and Patty requested I make miniature ones for her wedding later this year, which I will gladly do (did I mention that I'm making the desserts for patty's wedding? okay, well i'm mentioning it now, and I couldn't be more honored).
Below is my adaptation of Ms. Lawson’s recipe.
Chocolate and Mixed Berry Pavlova - adapted from Nigella Lawson
For the meringue:
6 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar (Nigella uses superfine, but don't spend the extra money on it. you can achieve this texture by blitzing the sugar in a food processor – however, I find this step unnecessary, so I just use regular sugar)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder passed through a sieve
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (you won't taste this, so don't worry)
2 oz of bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, really finely chopped
For the topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Mixed berries, about a pint each of blackberries and raspberries, whatever you have in season.
Half of one of those containers of strawberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Using a cake pan about 9 inches or so in diameter, draw the outline of the cake pan onto the parchment with a pen, pencil, or Sharpie. This will give you a guideline on where to mound the meringue. Flip the parchment over (you don’t want your meringue to taste of ink or pencil now, do you?) and place the parchment on the cookie sheet. Set aside.
Hull the strawberries and cut them in half (or in quarters if they are huge). I prefer to keep these pieces relatively large, because the smaller you cut them, the more prone they are to becoming mushy really fast. Put these in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of sugar (doesn’t have to be exact), stir, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside. Give it a stir every once in a while until ready to use.
Using a metal bowl that has been cleaned and dried completely (you don’t want any residue from anything else in that bowl), beat the egg whites with a stand mixer or hand-held mixer until satiny peaks form (but not stiff peaks). Slowly add the sugar until the meringue is stiff and shiny (stiff peaks). Add both chocolates and the teaspoon of vinegar and, using a rubber spatula, GENTLY mix BY HAND until it is all incorporated. (I saw Ms. Lawson do this when her show aired on the Style Network years ago, and she explains what value the vinegar has to the beaten egg whites, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it does. Something to do with the stability of the whites, I think). Start mounding the meringue into the circle drawn on your parchment. It’s okay if you have so much of it that you have to mound outside of the circle; just ensure that your meringue disk is as round as you can possibly get it. Smooth down the sides and top with your spatula. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 300 degrees F and cook for one hour. It may take an extra 15 minutes, but in my oven, it takes one hour. After an hour, the edges of the meringue should be crackly, and when you push slightly in the center of the disk, it should not be completely dried out. Turn the oven off, leave the oven door ajar, and let cool to room temperature.
Right before you’re ready to serve, remove the meringue from the oven and invert it onto a plate that’s big enough to hold it (as flat a plate as possible).
Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until it’s thick and whipped thoroughly, then mound that on top of the meringue. Mound the macerated strawberries on top of the whipped cream, including some of their juices. Pile the blackberries and raspberries haphazardly around. If you want, you can shave some chocolate directly on top. Have people cut wedges of it themselves.