About a year ago at this very same time, I knew that I was moving into a new apartment. And not just any apartment, but a VERY new apartment. A space just two floors above where I was. The third floor attic space was unfinished and used as a storage space by the landlords. One night, when they had us over for drinks we mentioned how if they converted it into an apartment, we would take it. And then began the long journey to the apartment we currently call home. Each month it seemed as if nothing was happening. No sounds of carpentry or hammering. No trucks outside bringing new materials up. Nothing. Then bit by bit we saw things start to happen. So by this time last year, I was starting to plan the move. I figured I would use the new space as a new way to launch my site. I was going to get back into food blogging. I was actually going to make it happen. But of course, it’s new construction and when has that ever been finished on time? So it was pushed back a month. And then another month. And then there was a hard date of July 1. We had to be out because a replacement roommate was moving into our old space.
As the date grew closer, I was planning on what I would make. Something fresh, something sweet, something different. I wanted to make something I never made before. Something grand and elegant but also a bit understated and rustic. It was early Summer and parts of the Spring harvest were to be found. Rhubarb. I would include rhubarb. I could buy some and freeze it. It was still close enough to Spring that having a little rhubarb recipe up on the site wouldn’t seem so out of place. I remember I was watching a cooking show on a rainy day and she was making a Pavlova. A beautiful cloud of meringue topped with fruit & cream. That was it. A very simple dessert that looked incredibly dreamy and was topped with brightly colored fruit. I was sold. My mind was made up. I was going to make a Rhubarb Pavlova. So I prepared and I waited. And then July 1 came.
As a result of having a build out and times changing and us having to be out by a certain time, they rushed things. In fact, they weren’t even completely done. We had no countertops. We had no dishwasher. We had an oven, but the gas wasn’t yet connected. Running water? Only in the bathroom. This was not ideal. I couldn’t make this stunning sweet treat without counters. I didn’t even have a place for my mixer! So that idea got scratched, the new beginning of the site was postponed and the recipe went into the archives.
Now we have countertops, a backsplash, gas, running water, a dishwasher and a collection of cake stands dessert plates that have been amassed from my many, many, many trips to HomeGoods. It’s also Spring. The rhubarb is in season. It was time. I could bring back this recipe from banishment and render it into all of its glory! So I made a pavlova. My first one ever. I’ve made a ton of meringue, but never a giant whopping disc of it. I whipped the heck out of those eggs. I filled it with love and vanilla and rose and carefully spread it out into a circle. I placed it into the oven and baked it for the recommended amount of time. It was beautiful. It was stunning. A beautiful sight to see. And then I let it sit there to cool. And some cracks appeared. That was fine. That was to be expected. And then more. And more. And then parts started caving in. What had happened to this fluffy and sparkly cloud on the sheet pan? This is what I get for listening to other people. So I decided to do it my way.
Making meringue is not hard. Especially if you’ve got a stand mixer. You whip, add some sugar and then whip some more. That’s it. You stand there. You wait. You can even walk away. If you’re whipping by hand, hats off to you. That’s a lot of work. But if you’re not a glutton for punishment, using your friend, Electricity, will make this a breeze. I would say it would make it a piece of cake…but we aren’t making a cake and I don’t always care for puns. I looked up quite a number of recipes. And they all basically said the same thing: egg whites with salt, sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and vanilla. There is nothing peculiar about any of that. Some of what caught me off guard were the amounts or exactly what people would use. I like to build flavor whenever I can. If a recipe calls for an ingredient because of what it is and there is a more flavorful option out there, then that’s usually what I opt for. So instead of vinegar, I chose the acidity of lemon. Not only will it do the same trick, but it will brighten up the flavor a bit. Why just add vanilla extract when you can add a vanilla bean and get tiny specks of vanilla throughout. I also cut back on the amount of sugar. The more sugar you add, the longer the meringue has to whip. If you have too soft a meringue, it will melt into itself and will end up more blob-like than cloud like. Plus, there is sugar in nearly every other component to this dessert, so if you don’t want to call the dentist the minute your finished, it’s the way to go.
Originally when I started out, I was going to include some roasted strawberries. But then the leftover egg yolks were staring at me. I didn’t want to waste anything. I wanted this dessert to utilize as many parts as I could. For the meringue you will be left with a vanilla bean pod, lemon ends and egg yolks. The pod and the lemon ends can be used in the poaching liquid for the rhubarb (more on that in a second). The egg yolks could be turned into lemon curd, which would become the bed on top of the meringue for the rhubarb to lay. Then, as I stated, there’s the poached rhubarb. A simple process that gives you two things. Delicious and tender rhubarb that retains it’s shape and color and a pink liquid. Instead of just dumping there poaching liquid down the drain, dump it into a pitcher and mix with water to achieve the right balance of sweetness that you like. You’ve now got a refreshing drink to serve in the afternoon or just add vodka or so many other liqueurs to it for a springtime cocktail.
This excited me. The whole process was coming together splendidly. One component lead into another. But I still wasn’t perfectly set. I wanted just one more thing. Rhubarb’s favorite friend: strawberry. Since I wasn’t going to roast them any more (a great way to intensify the strawberry flavor), I wanted to make a sauce. A fresh and bright sauce to sweeten up the tartness of the rhubarb even more. A bright red color to drizzle down over the pink, yellow and white layers. We eat with our eyes first. And in Spring, after a long and gray winter, everybody wants color. We’re like the birds and the bees, flying and buzzing our way around to anything bright because we haven’t seen it in months.
One note, I used about 4 large lemons for this entire recipe. Before you go ahead and juice, zest the lemons and save the zest (it freezes perfectly well). Next up, go and juice all the lemons. Store in a container in your fridge and every time part of the recipe calls for zest or juice, you can just measure it out. Save the juiced pieces of lemon for poaching the rhubarb. Those will keep in a ziplock back in the fridge for a couple days.
Ok, one more note…er…notes. Pavlovas are great because they are ridiculously easy to assemble. The biggest thing holding you back would be the amount of pieces it has going on. This becomes an issue because once you top your pavlova, the moisture and added sugar added to the top will make it soggy and mush after a while. This is a dessert you want to assemble RIGHT before you serve it. So having everything done and ready will make it a breeze. The meringue can made a day or two ahead of time. Just wrap it in plastic. Or if you have the space, wrap it in plastic and freeze. Take it out about an hour before you’ll be serving it. The lemon curd benefits from a chill. Whenever I make it, I place a piece of plastic wrap right on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. You can make the curd up to 5 days ahead. The poached rhubarb also keeps well for a few days. Lastly is the strawberry sauce, you can easily make that the same day or two days ahead without any effect on the flavor.
And so, without further ado, I present to you, the slightly-altered recipe that was supposed to re-launch Baker By Design back in July of 2014 in May of 2015. Bon Appetit!
Rhubarb & Rose Pavlova
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A heavenly combination of an airy rose meringue topped with tart lemon curd, tender rhubarb poached with vanilla and drizzled with a raw and sweet strawberry sauce.
First things first, you want to "age" your egg whites. By doing this, you're actually just tricking your egg whites into thinking they're old. All it means is that you are going to crack the egg whites into your mixer bowl and let them sit out for an hour or two until they get to room temperature. Save the yolks for the lemon curd (they will store in the fridge).
Preheat your oven to 275ºF.
Once your eggs are ready to be put in Shady Pines, it's time to get started. You will want to have your sugar measured out at this point. Attach the whisk attachment and turn the mixer on to medium speed. When the whites get very frothy and it's you don't see any more yellow, it's time to add in the sugar.
Turn the mixer down to low and while it's still running, add in your sugar. Don't just dump it in, but you also don't have to go tablespoon by tablespoon. In a steady stream, shake the sugar in until it's all left the bowl you're holding and all those glistening crystals are submerged in egg. Crank the speed up to high and get everything else you need ready.
Pretty soon, the watery and bubbly looking mixture will become stark white and thick. This can take about 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the speed of the mixer, the age of the eggs and the humidity that day. So just keep an eye on it. In the end what you're looking for are egg whites that don't fall back on themselves. For this, I recommend stopping the mixer and checking. You can either put a spoon in and then flip it up so that you're holding it straight up (think The Matrix "There is no spoon"). What I normally do is just use the whisk attachment (why get anything else dirty). Stir it around the bowl and lift it up and out and then flip it over so that the point of the whisk tines is up top. Take a look at what the eggs are doing. If the "points" of meringue fall back and droop, they need to mix a little more, but if they stand up and stay that way, it's perfect.
At this point, you can add in the rest of the ingredients and mix for about 30 seconds until everything is whipped in. The benefit of doing it this way, is that nothing gets deflated from folding it in.
Grab a sheet pan and line it with parchment paper. Find a 9-inch cake pan (or anything round) and use a pencil or sharpie to trace around it onto the parchment. Once that's complete, flip the parchment over so you can see the circle. So now you're going to pile on that pearlescent meringue. Pile it right up into the center of that circle. Then, with an offset spatula, work it out until you've basically colored in the circle with meringue. The beauty of pavlova is that it can be messy. But you can also pipe it onto the parchment if you want, too.
When you're spreading the meringue on to the parchment, if you find that it isn't hold its shape, it just means you haven't whipped it to the right stiffness. This does not mean you have to start over. Simply scrape it all of the parchment and put back into your mixer and whip until it's the right consistency.
Slide the meringue into the oven and then turn the heat down to 250ºF. Set a timer for 60 minutes. Do your best to not disturb the baking meringue. If you want to look, just turn the light on. After 60 minutes, it's time to check on the meringue. The outside should be dry to the touch and slightly browned. If it's not done, bake at 20 minute intervals until the meringue ready. Once it's done, just turn the oven off. Leave the meringue in the oven to cool.
When it's nice and cool, I find it best to peel the parchment off while the meringue is flipped upside down. Carefully brace the top of the meringue and with your other hand grab the parchment, flip over so that the meringue hand is palm up with a meringue in it. Peel the parchment off. Either place right onto the serving dish or wrap in plastic until ready to use.
When I'm making a curd (or pastry cream) I like to get everything ready to go first. So in small sauce pan, combine the honey, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt. Grab a bowl and set a sieve over it. Next, choose your mixing bowl and plop in the sugar, yolks and cornstarch. (The vanilla extract and St. Germain aren't added until the VERY end).
Now it's time to start. Attach the whisk to your stand mixer and whisk those three ingredients together on medium low speed until it is very thick and pale. If you whisk too fast, you will incorporate too much air and then you'll get a weird layer of air in your curd (I know this from experience). Once it's thick, just turn it down to low until everything else is ready.
While that is whisking, put your sauce pan on the stove and heat over medium high heat, stirring with a spatula to help melt the butter. When the butter is melted, you can turn the heat up a bit if you like, and let the mixture come to a boil (it's possible for it to boil without the butter being fully melted, not so much in this case, but it does happen every now and then).
Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat off and with the mixer running on low speed, pour in a little bit of the boiling juice mixture. Let it mix for a few seconds before slowly pouring the rest into the bowl in a steady stream. Turn the speed up a bit to make sure it's all mixed together.
Stop the mixer and pour all of the contents back into the sauce pan. Use the spatula to get every last drop out. Put the sauce pan back on the stove top and turn the heat on to low. Stir the curd to prevent it from scorching. As it heats, it will get thicker and thicker. It's ready when you can push the curd with your spatula and you can see all the "fat rolls" on top of each other. You can also take the temperature. When it reaches 177ºF, it's ready.
Now, simply pour the contents of the sauce pan into the sieve you set over the bowl. Use the spatula to slowly stir everything through. Any egg that wasn't fully mixed in and got scrambled will stay out of the curd (as will any shell). Scrape the bottom of the sieve. Put a piece of plastic directly on the surface of the curd and let cool for until the bowl is room temperature again. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
Raw Strawberry Sauce
This recipe is so easy, it only has one instruction. Take a food processor (or blender) and put everything in it. Pulse a few times to get everything chopped up and mixed together. Then, let it whir until smooth. Stop once or twice to scrape down the sides. Chill until ready to use (just give it a stir).
In a large sauce pan, combine everything except for the rhubarb. This is the time to use your leftover lemon juice, juiced lemon rinds and split & seeded vanilla bean. Put the pan on the stove and and turn the heat to medium.
When you start to see little bubbles, add in the rhubarb and turn the heat down to low.
Check the rhubarb after about 10 minutes. If the tip of a sharp paring knife goes in without any resistance it's ready. If it's not, keep poaching and check every 5 minutes. You don't want the rhubarb to be mushy, you sort of want to catch it when it's "al dente." When it's ready, turn the heat off and leave in the liquid to cool.
If your rhubarb is really soft, strain out the liquids from the solids. Make an ice bath with water and ice and place a metal or glass bowl with the poaching liquid in that. Stir frequently until cool. Place the rhubarb (and everything else if you want) back in to the poaching liquid and keep in the fridge, covered, until ready to use.
Place the meringue on your serving vessel. Spread the lemon curd over the top. Place the poached rhubarb on top of that. You can serve like that and then drizzle each slice with Strawberry Sauce or you can drizzle it over the entire pavlova. Feel free to add whipped cream too.
BONUS: Rhubarb Vanilla "Juice"
Remember that poaching liquid? Don't throw it out. Strain out all the solids. In a large pitcher combine the liquid with some water. Depending on how sweet you want it, you can vary how much you add. You just want to add enough water to dilute the sugar a bit. Start with a cup, stir and then taste. Serve by itself, add to cocktails, use for tea or use it anywhere water is called for.
When making meringue, it is VERY important that the bowl and whisk you are making your meringue in is perfectly dry. Any water or oils or fats will make your meringue sad and not work out. If there is any yolk mixed in to your white, that will also make you turn to a life of drinking.