For three weeks every June, after some long-awaited sunshine, the farmers’ markets and fruit stands in western Washington are overflowing with local strawberries. Although acceptable strawberries are available all year round, I yearn for the local strawberries available in those fleeting weeks.
These are not the strawberries that will hold in a fridge for four or five days. Instead, these berries must be used the same day or next day because after that, they will have sadly molded or turned to mush. The flavor and texture are like no other strawberries I can find the rest of the summer.
We picked strawberries as youngsters with my mom at farms near Carnation in the Snoqualmie Valley, at the base of the foothills of the Cascade Range. Fellow pickers know it’s back-breaking work, leaning over to reach low plants, often on muddy ground in the rain, as we frequently have here in western Washington.
But these strawberries are worth it. They make superior strawberry shortcake and jam, and are fabulous roasted, as I mentioned in the Vanilla Roasted Rhubarb variation in the previous chapter (this page).
The pavlova has a romantic history, Created by an Australian pastry chef for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova while she was performing in Australia in the 1920s, the chef described the dessert as being as light as she was.
A traditional pavlova is topped with fresh strawberries, kiwi, and passion fruit. Although I’m not a fan of eating hard-baked meringues, I thoroughly enjoy this dessert with its combination of flavors and textures—tangy fruit, rich whipped cream, and crisp, chewy meringue. I have also paired this pavlova with roasted rhubarb—a perfect combination.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 recipe Vanilla Roasted Strawberries (this page)
For the meringues:
- 1½ cups (300 g) sugar
- 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 6 egg whites at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1½ cups (340 mL) heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the whipped cream:
Steps to make strawberry cake recipe
1. Prepare the roasted strawberries.
2. To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment (add a little nonstick spray or butter underneath to keep the parchment from slipping).
3. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.
4. Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-top speed until the egg whites are just beginning to foam. With the mixer running, add the sugar-cornstarch mixture in four parts, waiting about 5 seconds between each addition, until all of it is has been added. (Adding the sugar too fast will deflate the egg whites, but adding the sugar too slow won’t allow the sugar to dissolve correctly.) Turn the mixer to high speed and continue whipping the meringue to stiff peaks. The meringue should be shiny and create a firm pattern in the bowl. Stop the mixer and test the meringue by dipping your finger into it. The peak should stand straight up on your finger. Add the salt and mix at medium-top speed for 3 minutes. This stabilizes the meringue and helps the sugar dissolve. Add the vanilla and mix at medium speed.
5. Portion the meringue into six mounds about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Using a tablespoon, spread each meringue to about 4 to 5 inches in diameter, making a divot ¾ inch deep by 2 inches wide in the middle of each meringue (to hold the cream and fruit later). You can make any size meringues, but remember that smaller meringues will take less time to bake.
6. Bake the meringues for 40 minutes, or until they are dry and crisp on the exterior. The meringues will feel dry after about 30 minutes, but continue baking them another 10 minutes to ensure the interior is baked. If the meringues color, lower the temperature to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Keep in mind that in wet weather, meringues can be finicky. You may need to bake the meringues longer to get to a crisp stage. Pavlova meringue interiors should be soft, like marshmallow. Cool the meringues at room temperature. If you are going to store them, move them to an airtight container and stack the meringues between parchment as soon as they are cool. They will hold for about 2 days. (Moist air will cause the meringues to soften.)
7. When you are ready to serve, whip the cream with the sugar to medium-stiff peaks. Put a dab of whipped cream on each plate and then place the meringues on the plates. (The whipped cream is a plating trick to keep the meringue from sliding around as you take it to the table.) Fill the indentations of each meringue generously with whipped cream. Divide the roasted strawberries among the pavlovas, drizzling the juice over the top, and serve immediately. You can also build the pavlovas ahead and refrigerate them for up to 30 minutes before serving.