Ever since smoke bombs, sparklers, and those black tablets that turn into little writhing snakes lost their childish appeal , I haven't been one to celebrate the Fourth of July much. It's a wild and reckless holiday. Noisy and violent.
This Fourth of July, however, I celebrated in a fittingly low-key way. First, I should mention that it turns out that of all my neighbors that live within ear-shot distance of bottle rocket launching, not a single one actually launched a bottle rocket or similar firework devise. (Again, I'm finding the benefits of living on the wrong side of the tracks. Neighbors don't give a damn about their garbage blowing on to my lawn, but they also don't give a damn about the chickens in my backyard either. And since, this isn't really the family friendly side of Bowling Green--no kids = no fireworks.)
Kent and I went to a party a couple of friends hosted. They served sweet/spicy vegetarian sloppy joes, baked sweet potato french fries, and real-deal made from scratch coleslaw. (Since they live in apartment, we didn't have to do any stereotypical grilling out). I was asked to bring dessert.
I managed to whip up this pavlova:
Another reason, I don't like the Fourth of July is because it's an excuse for tacky people to have a tacky theme party--mainly by drenching a meal and its acutriments with anything red, white, and blue or anything that resembles the stars and stripes. However, strawberries and blueberries are in season and I just couldn't resist using them.
I recently discovered pavlovas, thanks to Martha Stewart. I found a recipe this winter for a chocolate pavlova that was a crowning achievement and was the start of my recent meringue obsession.
Now, it seems that pavlovas are everywhere. For instance, Gourmet has ran a pavlova recipe in both its April and July issues this year. The pavlova I made, I adapted from Gourmet's July issue. At its core a pavlova is a meringue nest, into which a layer of custardy-type filling is nestled, and then topped with whip cream, and traditionally garnished with fruit, particularly tart berries. Giving my angsty attitude toward gaudy displays of patriotism, I was pleased to find that pavlovas are not American at all.
It isn't clear where the dessert was invented. New Zealand and Australia fight over the title of first pavlova makers. It is clear, though, that pavlovas were named after Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova when she toured both New Zealand and Australia in 1926. Putting dubious food folklore aside, pavlovas are amazing because they are such a delicate artistry of contrasts. Not unlike Anna's dancing, I guess. The meringue is crisp on the outside and gooey marshmallow on the inside. The pudding-thick rhubarb custard is assertively tart, but soothed by sweet, fluffy billows of whip cream and then the slight crunch of strawberry seeds and the gentle pop of blueberries make gentle explosions between your teeth. This slightly wild dessert seems an appropriate match to roman candles.
(And we did go to see the public display of fireworks after dinner.)
Berry Pavlova with Rhubarb Custard Filling
For Meringue Nest:
1 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch
3 large egg whites at room temperture
3 T. cold water
1 t. distilled white vinegar
For Rhubarb Filling:
2 cups rhubarb, in small dice
1/8 t. salt
juice of 1 small lime
4 T. unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks
freshly whipped cream (sweetened) made from about 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
berries of your choice
Preheat oven to 300 degrees with rack in the middle. On parchment paper, trace a 7-in circle (I like to use a pie pan) in pencil. Turn parchment over and place on baking sheet.
Whisk together sugar and cornstarch.
Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using a stand mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks, then add the water and keep beating until they hold soft peaks again.
Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Add vinegar and beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.
Gently spread meringue inside the circle, making a slight nest for the filling with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 45 minutes until meringue is pale golden and has a crust. Turn oven off, and let meringue cool in oven for at least one hour, or up to overnight.
Meanwhile, make the custard. Stir rhubarb, sugar, and salt together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once sugar is dissolved and rhubarb begins to let off its juice, adjust heat to high and cook until rhubarb is the consistency of baby pap.
(If you want a really smooth filling you can blend the cooked rhubarb with an immersion blender.)
Add butter and lime juice and whisk until dissolved.
In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg yolks. Add about 1/4 cup of hot rhubarb mixture to the eggs to temper, and whisk well. Then add egg/rhubarb mixture to the saucepan with the rest of the rhubarb mixture.
Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until custard is thickened about 2 minutes, but do not let mixture boil.
Transfer to a bowl, cover with parchment, and let cool in fridge, at least 1 1/2 hours.
Just Before Serving:
Whip the cream. Assemble. If you assemble it too far in advance, the meringue will get soggy. Mine sat for about two hours before we ate it and it was fine. But, I imagine the relative humidity could effect it quite a bit.