Sunday, April 8, 2012

Passover Pavlova

It's rare that I have an occasion to bake a cake, so when the opportunity presents itself (as it did this past Friday night for a family Passover seder) I don't let a little thing like a no-flour rule stop me from making a beautiful cake for my family!

For those unfamiliar, Jews don't eat anything with leavening for eight day to commemorate our ancestors' escape from slavery in Egypt — when they fled, there was no time for their bread to rise, so they ate flat unleavened bread, which today translates to Matzoh.

These specific rules mean something very important to Jewish bakers: No cake, no cupcakes, no cookies, no anything that calls for flour.

Luckily, there is a very beautiful dessert made of egg whites and sugar that is kosher for Passover — Pavlova.

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is similar to meringue cookies, but baked at a lower temperature for an hour or more, which yields a very marshmallowy center engulfed in a crisp shell. The dish is traditionally topped with whipped cream and fruit.

For my first attempt at making Pavlova, I decided on two layers of Pavlova topped with homemade whipped cream, lemon curd, strawberries and kiwis. The assembly was a bit difficult (the Pavlovas were incredibly delicate and they cracked when I moved them), but well worth the trouble!

Pavlova (Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking):
Makes 2 7-inch Pavlova circles
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 scant tablespoon cornstarch (just under 1 tablespoon)
  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees and draw 2 7-inch circles onto a piece of parchment paper (I traced the bottom of a pie dish) and invert the piece of parchment paper onto a baking sheet so that the pencil/pen marks are face-down
  • In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form
  • Add sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until consistency is smooth and stiff peaks form
  • Beat in vanilla
  • Fold in vinegar and cornstarch 
  • With a spatula, fill circles on the parchment paper with meringue mixture, smoothing edges and making sure the edges are slightly higher than the center (to create a dome for whipped cream and other toppings)
  • Bake on the center rack for 60-70 minutes until the outside of the shells are dry and a pale cream color
  • Turn oven off, crack the door open, and let Pavlova cool completely in the oven

Whipped Cream (recipe from All Recipes):
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chill bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10 minutes
  • Beat cream in chilled bowl until thick
  • Add powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until soft peaks almost form
  • Refrigerate until ready to use, mixing again for a minute or two before using

Lemon Curd (recipe adapted from the one I used for my Lemon Almond Cupcakes):
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest and juice from 3 lemons
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • In a small bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar and let sit for 5 minutes
  • Cream together butter and zesty sugar
  • Add eggs, one at a time
  • Add lemon juice
  • Pour mixture into a pot, and stir over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring constantly
  • Refrigerate mixture until ready to use, heating for 15 seconds so spreadable before using

  • Just before ready to serve, transfer first shell onto a cake platter, top with whipped cream, a heaping dollop of lemon curd, and sliced fruit
  • Repeat with second shell and serve immediately

Happy Baking and Happy Passover!!

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