I attempted to make a Pavlova. The LA Times Food Section had a feature article on Pavlovas -- crispy, gooey meringue shell filled with whipped cream and fresh, seasonal fruit. It looked so simple and delicious, I thought I would give it a try. Now, I can cook up a storm. As I am cooking, I can anticipate how my ingredients will blend, transforming into a savory delicious dish. But baking is altogether different. Baking is science. The ingredients go into the oven one way and emerge another way altogether. I have no sense of control over the outcome when I bake and have to completely rely on recipes. When cooking, I trust myself to tweak or experiment. If I do no have a particular ingredient, I can substitute with confidence. Baking however. . .well, baking gives me the willies.
Nevertheless, I thought I would try to make the Pavlova. Meringue has no fat. The non-dairy whipped cream I use is low calorie. Berries are full of antioxidants and a family favorite. How could I go wrong?
The first way I went wrong is by not having the right equipment. I notice that many dessert recipes call for an electric mixer. I do not own an electric mixer. I do have an old hand held Braun infusion mixer which I use in a pinch. (I received it as a wedding shower gift 18 years ago and it still runs.) The recipe calls for eight egg whites whipped on medium speed until peaks form, about three minutes. I whipped the egg whites. At three minutes, the egg whites were slightly foamy and still very liquid. I whipped some more. The eggs whites became frothy. I continued whipping. The eggs whites eventually became somewhat solid, creating a soft mound more than peaks. I was sick of whipping and decided to move on.
The recipe next called for 2-1/2 cups of superfine sugar, gradually blended with a whisk. I had the sugar and I had a whisk. As I added the sugar, I thought it seemed like an awfully lot of sugar. However, because baking is a science, I felt compelled to follow the recipe exactly, and against my better judgment blended all of the sugar into the egg whites. The egg whites became a dense, opaque creamy color. The foam and whatever peaks may have existed within the foam disappeared as the mixture began to resemble batter.
I added the corn starch, vinegar and vanilla called for the in the recipe. I had definite concerns that the gooey mass in my mixing bowl was not right. But I followed the recipe.
I was supposed to make a circle on parchment paper placed on a cookie sheet, place the meringue on the sheet and bake it. My mixture was too liquid to put on a cookie sheet, so I poured it into a pie pan.
Because I was uncertain about my meringue, I thought I would try again. So I mixed up another batch, again carefully following the recipe. The second batch was very similar to the first batch despite my efforts to whip the egg white a little longer. I placed the second batch on the paper covered cookie sheet as described in the recipe. It did not lay in a pile as suggested by the recipe. Rather, it spread across the cookie sheet as if I was making cooking bars. It was all an experiment, so I let it go.
I baked the meringues as directed.
When it came time to assemble the Pavlova, I discovered the meringue in the pie pan did not cook all the way. While there was the white, crisp meringue crust at the top, underneath was uncooked egg white syrup. Yuck! The meringue on the cookie sheet was thoroughly cooked, so much so that the the paper cooked right into the meringue.
I was able to salvage some of the meringue from the cookie sheet. I lined a bowl with pieces of paperless meringue I manage to break off the large sheet of meringue that filled the cookie sheet, and I topped it the with whipped cream and fruit. It was delicious -- despite the meringue being a bit too sweet. My family decided we would have been just as happy with simple fruit and cream.