The Rosy Strawberry-Rhubarb Pavlova


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Chandler Strawberries, Rhubarb Compote, Tahitian Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream, Rose Meringue.

I remember the first time that I ever heard of a pavlova — in 1999, at the now-gone Montrachet in New York. I ordered it as something like a dare to myself, and the kitchen. I vaguely expected some kind of hearty Russian dessert to come out of that refined French kitchen that had already given us two absolutely amazing courses. The pavlova turned out to be a plate of pure lightness and flavor. Looking back, it was the first dessert that really left an impression on me (even though I’d have no clue about how to make it for the roughly 7 years afterwards). It was a passion fruit and blackberry pavlova, and part of its genius was that the glazed blackberries on the side of the plate were warm — making the otherwise cool, creamy dish even dreamier. And now that I think of it, that dish had two tart fruits, but the warmth in the berries imbued the dish with just the right earthy note. Brilliant.

So, I love pavlovas, and they’re really pretty easy to make. Unlike some meringue recipes that can go for hours or overnight in a low oven, the pavlova meringue can only take about an hour in the oven, so that it’s crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y on the inside. Some pavlova-ists insist on a perfectly white meringue (which indeed looks gorgeous and satin-y in the oven while baking in the early stages), but I prefer a bit of a final brown complexion to mine. As all of my sugar-cooking as proven to me, color on sugar equals flavor… so that slight caramelization on the exterior is pure gold.

When I started on this dessert, I knew that I wanted to make some kind of a strawberry-rhubarb concoction… It actually started out as a napoleon, since I was making a big batch of puff pastry anyway that day to put in the freezer for alsatian tarts during the summer and I figure I should make pastry cream once a year whether I need it or not, but as I thought about it more and more, paring it down the essence of the flavors that I wanted to experience, the extra butter, flour, and eggs went away, as usual… and left me with the idea of making a sugary, creamy pavlova, topped with fresh strawberries on top of a rhubarb compote and unsweetened vanilla whipped cream, and spiked with the slight essence of rosewater in the meringue, inspired by Claudia’s Fleming’s ideas in The Last Course.

Strawberries - Wonderfully ripe and juicy Chandlers from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, quartered a la minute. No need to do/add anything else to them.

Rhubarb Compote - based on Dana’s recipe - I looked around for rhubarb prep ideas, and went with this one because I didn’t want it too runny so that it wouldn’t dissolve the meringue or whipped cream. This was one perfectly slightly jammy, with the help of a touch of butter to give it body and silkiness. I omitted the orange peel b/c I didn’t want too much orange flavor, but I did include some homemade orange liqueur made with valencias and Mount Gay rum. Rhubarb is way more rare in LA than it is in Seattle (I know of two farmers market stands that carry it, occasionally), but I felt that this is a good recipe to use to show off rhubarb whether it is sparse or plentiful.

Rose Meringue - this recipe, with rosewater added to taste at the end instead of vanilla - I followed Fleming’s advice to make the rose flavor slightly stronger than I wanted before baked b/c it would weaken a bit after baking. The exterior of the meringue seemed a little… umm…. rubbery for a while in the oven (maybe from the cornstarch), but I upped the temp to 275F after 50 minutes, and it got caramelized and crunchy on the outside while leaving the inside marshmallowy. And some people make meringues to get rid of extra egg whites… but I’m the type who never finds ways to get rid of extra yolks… egg-based custards just aren’t my thing.

I have some leftover meringues and rhubarb compote and cream… and some fresh brooks cherries! So, tonight, as I watch the Lost finale, it’ll be a pavlova version of last year’s cherry-rhubarb cobbler…. as look forward to remaking my Fresh Apple Pavlova in the fall from almost two years ago!

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