This week we have two versions of pavlova, a summery dessert involving meringue, cream and fruit. Thanks to everyone who sent in recipes: Marjorie Hughes, Donna Gylywoychuk, Edna Mroz of Beausejour, Muriel McPhail of Carberry, Celine Kear, who contributed a basic recipe for a large pavlova, and Betty Nesbitt, who offered a recipe for making small individual pavlovas.
There is a long-running dispute between Australia and New Zealand about the dessert's origins, both countries claiming pavlova as their own. The ideal pavlova base is crisp on the outside and soft and marshmallowy inside, and the basic recipe of egg whites and sugar is simplicity itself. (Some versions add very small amounts of binders and stabilizers like salt, cornstarch or vinegar.)
Still, working with egg whites can be tricky, so a few hints can help ensure success. Start with eggs at room temperature. Use a glass, metal or ceramic bowl, because plastic bowls are more likely to retain grease residue that can inhibit volume. Make sure there is no yolk at all in the white mixture. (It's best to separate each white into a small container first and then add to the bowl to avoid contaminating the whole mixture.) Humidity can also affect meringue, so if possible choose a clear day and avoid washing hot sinks full of dishes while making it.
Use an electric stand mixer if possible, since you'll need about 10 minutes of beating to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. (Test by rubbing a small amount of meringue between your fingers to make sure there is no grainy feel.) The final mixture should be glossy and white -- one recipe suggests it should look like "the Swiss alps on a sunny day." If it becomes dull or starts to separate, the eggs have been overbeaten and you'll need to start again.
Try not to open the oven, though you'll need to peek briefly near the end to check on doneness. The pavlova should be dry to the touch on the outside but offer some sense of softness inside. After shutting off the heat, cool the pavlova in the oven since any abrupt drop in temperature can cause it to collapse.
One thing you shouldn't worry about too much: even pavlova perfectionists admit that some cracking is inevitable. Fortunately, you cover the base with whipped cream. Marjorie Hughes cleverly uses the leftover egg yolks to make lemon curd, which she then folds into whipped cream to give another layer of flavour to her pavlova.
You can make the meringue base ahead and store in an airtight container, but wait until close to serving to add the whipped cream and fruit. Fruit toppings can include strawberries, raspberries, sliced peaches or nectarines, mangoes, kiwis or passion fruit pulp.
This week, Linda Vincent would love the secret to Rae & Jerry's brilliantly crispy and light onion rings. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to email@example.com, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave. Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.
6 egg whites
310 ml (1 1/4 cups) superfine sugar (also called berry or fruit sugar)
About 310 ml (1 1/4 cup) whipping cream
About 250 g (8 oz) assorted fruit
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add sugar gradually, about 30 ml (2 tbsp) at a time, beating well after each addition. (It is important to beat for 10 minutes.) Preheat oven to 120 C (250 F). Cut a 25-cm (10-inch) circle of foil and place on a greased baking tray. Spread meringue evenly over foil. Bake until meringue feels dry to the touch, about 75-90 minutes. Turn off the heat and cool in oven for several hours. Before serving, whip cream and spread over base. Decorate with fruit.
Tester's notes: Absolutely delicious and easier than I thought. I did have a lot of cracking when transferring my pavlova base to a serving plate, but whipped cream covers a multitude of problems. I didn't add any sugar to the cream as the meringue base has plenty of sweetness, and for the fruit topping I used strawberries that had macerated for a few minutes with a touch of sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
4 egg whites
250 ml (1 cup) granulated sugar
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla
5 ml (1 tsp) white vinegar
500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream
Fresh fruit such as kiwis, blueberries, strawberries
125 ml (1/2 cup) toasted slivered almonds
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Continue beating while adding sugar slowly, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time. Add vanilla and vinegar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. (Overall beating time will probably be about 10 minutes.) Preheat oven to 135 C (275 F). Using an 11-cm (4.5-inch) bowl as a pattern, use a dark pencil to draw nine circles on two pieces of parchment paper cut to fit cookie sheets, leaving space around each circle. Turn the parchments over -- the circles will show through paper -- and spread meringue mixture over each circle to form the bases. Bake for about 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave to dry several hours (or even overnight). Remove carefully from parchment paper with a lifter. Pavlova bases can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container. When ready to serve, whip the cream, spread over the meringues and top with fruit and almonds.
Tester's notes: These turned out really well for me. The small pavlovas are less likely to crack when lifted and are easily stored, making them handy for make-ahead.