I started this post in June and then lost all energy and will to cook due to first trimester fatigue. But summer berries are still around for a little while, so fortunately I did not miss my window! If you go to the Cabrillo or Santana Row markets, buy P&K’s strawberries—they are honestly the best strawberries I have ever tasted. This is one recipe you will want to go the extra mile for.
In early June, I bought a flat of the best strawberries both for Jonji’s usual birthday cake (lemon poppy seed with strawberries and cream cheese frosting) but mostly for making more strawberry-rhubarb jam. Mom and Bailey had been hounding me for more, and our backyard rhubarb bush was looking crowded again anyway. But I had a few baskets left over, so Jonji and I started eating the last berries for dessert. Sliced and topped with pillowy whipped cream, they don’t need anything else. It may be the simplest dessert I can think of (unless you consider a raw piece of fruit dessert, which I don’t—that’s just a good snack).
If you’re hankering to make something more complex with your summer berries, look no further than pavlova. Arresting to look at, with its tower of meringue, mounds of whipped cream, pastry cream, jam, and fresh berries, the pavlova is a show-stopper for sure, and a sheer joy to eat. I made one for a family June birthday celebration, and I think it was gone in about 10 minutes from the time I cut the first slice. My family members are not normally ones to offer the last slice of something tasty up—with pavlova, it’s a fight to the death (kidding, kind of). The larger meringues are crunchy on the outside but marshmallowy on the inside, while little meringue kisses seem to dissolve in one bite. The contrast between the tart jam, smooth creams, and sweet meringue is heavenly. I think it might be my favorite dessert.
I love pavlova so much I chose to make it for my own birthday last year. Whenever I tell people I make my own birthday dessert, they give me a sad smile and ask why, or tell me I should just buy a cake. But for someone who loves to bake, a birthday is the ultimate time to make something you want. Often, I bake so I can share with others, but my birthday is the day I consider only what I want to eat.
To make this task easier, I make the meringues, quick jam, and pastry cream the day before I plan to assemble the dessert. Broken into component parts, it’s really not hard to make! Note that you can use really any type of fruit—just remember to have some tart fruit in there along with the sweeter ones, or else it will be sickly sweet. Alternatively, layer citrus or passionfruit curd in among the meringue to get that tartness this dessert needs.
Pavlova with Berries & Pastry Cream
serves 8-10 | meringue adapted from A Good Day to Bake by Benjamina Ebuehi, pastry cream from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebowitz, and chantilly cream from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
For the meringue:
white distilled vinegar
220g egg whites (about 6), at room temperature
365g caster (superfine baker’s) sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the pastry cream:
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed, at room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the quick jam:
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
For the Chantilly cream:
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) heavy cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
Two handfuls of fresh raspberries
2-3 baskets of the best strawberries you can find
To make the meringue, preheat the oven to 250°F. Line two large baking trays with parchment paper. Trace either an 8-inch cake pan on both sheets or one 10-inch cake pan on one sheet and leave the second blank, then turn the paper over.
If you’re using natural granulated sugar, whiz it up in a food processor for a few minutes to make it finer (one of the keys to good meringue is fine sugar, which dissolves better and therefore results in a smooth texture without any graininess). Alternatively, buy caster sugar (also known as baker’s sugar).
Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of a KitchenAid mixer with a paper towel soaked in a little white vinegar to ensure there isn’t any residual fat from a previous baking project (fat is the enemy of meringue). Pour the egg whites into the bowl, making sure there is no egg yolk whatsoever (again, fat is no friend of meringue). Beat the eggs whites with the whisk attachment on medium speed until the whites have soft peaks (2-4 minutes). One tbsp at a time, add the sugar. Continue beating until the egg whites are glossy, tripled in volume, and have stiff peaks (this could take 5-10 minutes or so). The meringue is ready when you pinch a little between two fingers and you no longer feel grains of sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tbsp cornstarch and mix briefly to combine.
Pipe or dollop the meringue into the circle or circles you traced on the parchment paper. If you’re doing two, make sure to build up a little bit of a wall on the outer edge of one of the layers in order to contain the fruit and creams. If you’re doing one layer, make sure there’s a decent well in the middle of that single layer.
With the extra meringue, pipe or dollop little “kisses” either around the circles or on a separate tray.
Place the trays in the oven, as close to the middle as you can, and bake for about 1 hour and 35 minutes. The kisses will be quite crisp at this point, and if you want to keep cooking the larger circles just take out the kisses and carefully place on a cooling tray. Turn the oven off and let the large meringues cool in the oven for about 30 minutes to an hour, then crack the oven, stick a wooden spoon in the opening, and leave the meringues to cool completely.
Meringue is best eaten soon after it’s made, but it keeps well for about a day. You can leave the meringue in the oven to fully cool overnight or carefully wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for about a day (the kisses can be kept in a well-sealed container).
To make the pastry cream, warm 250ml milk in a small pot and, once it’s very warm to the touch, set aside. Meanwhile, whisk 3 egg yolks and 2 tbsp cornstarch in a medium saucepan until smooth, then whisk in 3 tbsp sugar. Dribble in 1/2 cup of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking quickly all the while. Return the milk and egg mixture to the pot. Turn the heat to medium and continue whisking, making sure it’s cooking at nothing higher than a low boil. Cook, whisking constantly and quickly, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides, until the pastry cream has the consistency of mayonnaise. Remove from the heat and whisk in 4 tbsp butter, a couple cubes at a time, until completely emulsified and smooth. Whisk in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste.
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. Lay plastic wrap over the top and press into the pastry cream so it’s completely covered (this will ensure it doesn’t form a skin). Cover the container and chill in the fridge until ready to use.
To make the quick jam, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1 cup raspberries, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 2 tbsp sugar. Stir occasionally at first, then often once the mixture begins to boil. Watch it carefully and stir so that it doesn’t burn (turn the temperature down if you have to), until the berries have completely broken down and the mixture looks like jam. Scrape into a jar or bowl and cover, then refrigerate until assembly time.
When you’re ready to decorate, make the Chantilly cream. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, whisk 300ml heavy cream, 1 tbsp powdered sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract until stiff enough to pipe. Set aside.
Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and whisk a couple of times to loosen. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large (1/2″ at least) tip. Transfer the Chantilly cream to another piping bag fitted with the same size, or slightly smaller, round tip. Slice some of the strawberries in half, and some in thin slices—keep some whole, but remove the stems.
For the double layer pavlova: place the bottom meringue disk on a large platter. Pipe kisses of alternating pastry cream and Chantilly cream, then dollop half of the raspberry jam on top. Sprinkle with raspberries and strawberries of alternating sizes (use most of the thinly sliced strawberries on this layer). Top with the other meringue disk, and repeat the process of creams and fruit. Place some meringue kisses on top of all that. Pipe the rest of the pastry cream and Chantilly cream in kisses around the platter, then arrange more kisses around the cream. Scatter the rest of the fruit on the platter, among the kisses and cream.
For the single layer pavlova: place the meringue disk on a large platter. Pipe kisses of alternating pastry cream and Chantilly cream, then dollop the raspberry jam on top. Sprinkle with raspberries and strawberries of alternating sizes (use most of the thinly sliced strawberries on this layer). Place some meringue kisses on top of all that. Pipe any remaining pastry cream and Chantilly cream in kisses around the platter, then arrange more kisses around the cream. Scatter the rest of the fruit on the platter, among the kisses and cream.
Eat as soon as possible—it can hang out at room temperature for an hour or so, but stick it in the fridge to make it last longer. If it sits for more than 6 hours, things will likely start to go a bit soggy. I like to assemble my pavlovas within an hour or two of eating. Enjoy!