Whenever I travel by plane I buy a copy of Saveur, which I’ve found to be my favorite food magazine. I could subscribe to it, but somehow it feels like so much more of a prize when I can snag one while I’m stuck waiting in a terminal. Standing in the New Orleans airport last month, I saw that the September edition was The Burger Bible, so I almost didn’t buy it. But I knew it would talk about more than burgers (and it never hurts to learn how to make a good one anyway) so I flipped through and saw this colorful, ethereal dessert—the pavlova—in an article called The Light Fantastic by Dave Lieberman. After a quick skim of the article, I was sold. If you haven’t noticed, every picture I’ve submitted to date has been of brown food. The pavlova would bring me redemption.
At first, I hesitated to make this so late in the year, as summer fruits get more and more tart, then flavorless as fall progresses. But I was looking forward to making this too much to wait until next year for the sake of a little more flavor in the berries.
I started out, as instructed, by making lemon curd. The magazine picture promised yellow, glossy deliciousness. The lemon’s reaction with my pan, my whisk, or both delivered teenage mutant ninja green curd that was so unappetizing I could not imagine slinging it all over white meringue. Lemonless, and with little confidence that a redo would provide a different result anyway, I shamelessly hit the food coloring. At first I thought the green-gray curd was light enough that a good dose of yellow could make it look at least close to the right color. Wrong. I won’t describe the color after I added the yellow, other than to say that it might have something to do with babies and that the word “curd” lent itself to a little rhyme. My final option for curd salvation was to break out the red food coloring, which almost did the trick. I nearly emptied the red plastic bulb into the pan, but now the curd looked like ketchup. So I added two drops of blue and it came out to a nice dark raspberry color. It was the next best thing to yellow under the circumstances.
Next was the meringue itself, the base of the pavlova, and what I would be most proud of if I could get right since I had never made a meringue before. I did get it right. It really looked pretty and was much easier to manipulate than I had suspected. Even better, the uncooked meringue tasted exactly like marshmallow cream. “Hmm,” I thought, “a little bit sweet for an entire slice, but I’m sure the berries and cream will balance it out.” Wrong again, but I’ll get to that later.
So into the oven she went. The meringue widened a bit while cooking but maintained its shape quite well and hardly wept at all.
After letting it rest for several hours, I whipped up the cream and yogurt topping and sliced the strawberries. Once I had decorated the pavlova, the final touch was to apply the dark red lemon curd. It didn’t look too bad, if you don’t have an aversion to blood. I decided it was an ode to Dexter, and cut in.
The texture was excellent. The outside was light and crunchy, the inside still reminiscent of marshmallow cream. The sweetness, however, was almost unbearable. Chris took a bite and got a look on his face like he had been punched in the gut. In addition to the pavlova, a scoop of vanilla ice cream was on his plate. As he continued eating he said, without even a trace of irony, “Have some ice cream with it – it cuts the sweetness.” I had to add tart blueberries to every forkful to finish my piece. I rechecked the recipe to make sure I hadn’t added too much sugar and found that I hadn’t made a mistake. I did, however, notice that in his article, Dave Lieberman claimed to have "polished off three slices for breakfast." So I have just one question for Dave: how much insulin do you now have to polish off every day? Although I wouldn’t make this again, I did find myself nibbling on bits of the crunchy meringue while I was putting it away. In small pieces, it’s really delicious. I also see this as an exercise in mastering the visual side of cooking, which is nearly as important as the taste. In that sense, it was a success. Probably the two best dishes I’ve made to date (to be posted) came from Saveur, so I won’t be giving it up anytime soon.