Here’s my dirty secret: I’m writing a cake book, and my husband is the one family member who isn’t a big fan of cake. That should be grounds for divorce, but being the good wife, I compromise. For his birthday, I always bake him one of his favorites: an Antipodean classic, the Pavlova. This is also a great gluten-free option. The meringue works marvelously topped with vanilla whipped cream and a mix of summertime fruits and berries. If you have a local farmers’ market nearby, drop in and pick up a variety of what looks seasonally delicious. I like to keep the characteristics you find on farm-grown fruits, such as the small leaves on the cherries, on for decoration. Use a mix of sizes and colors of fruit in similar hues. If you can get your hands on passion fruit, it’s the bomb with mango slices. I often bake the meringue in the morning and let it sit in the oven to keep it in a dry, controlled temperature until it’s time to serve. Add the whipped cream and fruit just before serving, so the meringue doesn’t get soft.
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Line a large flat baking tray with parchment paper. Draw a guide by tracing around an 8-inch round cake pan for a Pavlova.
- Flip the parchment paper upside down so the marking doesn’t end up on the meringue.
- If you are using granulated sugar, grind it in a food processor or put it in a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin, until it’s fine, like caster sugar.
- Wipe a little vinegar over the whisk attachment and the mixing bowl of an electric mixer to make sure it’s free from any fat residue. Add the egg whites to the bowl, making certain there is no yolk.
- Beat the egg whites on low speed, gradually increasing the speed to medium. Beat until the egg whites have soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Add the cornstarch. Increase the speed to medium-high and, without stopping the mixer, gradually add the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the meringue is smooth, glossy, and tripled in volume.
- Finally, add the teaspoon of vinegar and the vanilla and mix until just combined.
- Dollop a finger of meringue in the corners of the tray to secure the paper. Using the circle you have traced as your guide, pile the meringue high onto the center of the circle. Using a spatula or a spoon, gently work the meringue to fit the circle and create a slight indentation in the center.
- Turn the oven temperature down to 250°F. Place the baking tray in the center of the oven. For the Pavlova, bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the outside is crisp and the center soft. For the individual meringues, bake for approximately 40 minutes; check on them after the first 10 minutes to make sure they’re not browning too much. If they are, turn the oven down a little bit more.
- When meringue has baked, turn off the oven. Leave the tray in the oven to cool completely. Remove the Pavlova from the oven just before serving.
- Just before serving, make the Vanilla Whipped Cream. Spoon the cream onto the top of the meringue, leaving half an inch around the perimeter. Top with the berries: start with the larger strawberries and then pile the more-delicate berries on top.
- Pour the cream into a cold large metal bowl.
- Add vanilla extract and sugar.
- Using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk the cream until it has doubled in volume, has smooth soft peaks, and is light and fluffy.
Reprinted with permission from Simple Cake by Odette Williams, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography credit Nicole Franzen © 2019.