When I think of Easter, I think of meringues. Soft, gooey confections floating in a sea of custard, or a pavlova. They are the perfect ending to your Easter dinner (the pavlova can also be adapted for the Passover seder by subbing potato starch for the cornstarch).
These are both unlike traditional meringues, which are crunchier and sweeter.
Pavlova was, as the story goes, invented in New Zealand Australia to honour the great ballerina Anna Pavlova. The billowy meringue was supposed to represent her airy white skirt as she danced the dying swan. No, say the Australians, it was our idea. And then there are those who suggest the dessert has its origins in the United States or Germany. Regardless of who holds the bragging rights, this is one of the most decadent meringues ever.
With all meringues, you must start with a super clean bowl and preferably room-temperature egg whites. Use fine granulated sugar if it is available. Measure out 4 egg whites, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp cream of tartar, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 tbsp white vinegar and 1 tsp cornstarch. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you want a perfect 8-inch or 9-inch round, draw the circle on the back of the parchment paper. Otherwise go freehand, which often looks more fun.
With electric beaters, start beating the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until they become foamy. Slowly drizzle in the sugar, beating constantly. The egg whites should be so thick they stand in stiff peaks. Add the vinegar, then sift in the cornstarch and briefly beat it into the mixture. Using a large spoon, dollop individual meringues onto the parchment paper (I find an oval shape more attractive) or make your 9-inch round. Scoop the sides higher, as you will fill the centre of the round with fruit and cream. Bake for 75 minutes at 275 F. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let sit for an hour. The meringue will easily peel off the paper. Store in a cool place, in an air-tight container, for up to a week. Never refrigerate meringue, which will make it soggy. When ready to serve, fill with whipped cream, fruit, lemon curd or anything else that you love.
The other magnificent meringue is Ile Flottante, an old French dessert that I was recently served and fell in love with all over again. Very light, it is the perfect finish to your Easter dinner.
Also called Floating Islands, the meringues are poached and served on top of crème anglaise. The meringue mixture is the same as above, but without the vinegar and cornstarch. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer and spoon about ¼ cup meringue mixture into the water. Poach about 2 minutes a side, then remove with a slotted spoon and place on parchment paper. They will deflate. Make a crème anglaise – basically a custard without a thickener – then float the meringues in a pool of the cooled custard. Garnish with caramel, nut brittles or fruit. If this seems too fiddly, you can pile the meringue mixture into a lightly oiled Bundt pan, place it in a pan of hot water and bake at 375 F until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Spectacular!
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