Balsamic Berry Pavlova

With the first day of summer upon us, I can feel the pastry potential humming in the balmy New York air.  Are you ready to try something new in the kitchen?  Challenge yourself to create the feathery beauty of a pavlova.

The pavlova cake dates back to the early 1900’s, when Russian ballerina and choreographer Anna Pavlova began touring America, Europe, and the UK.  In 1911, she founded her own ballet company that was the first to tour ballet around the world.  Notice the parallels to her graceful dancer form in the soaring, fluffy pavlova dessert.  Her tutu truly looks like a billowing round of meringue cake!

The strength of the pavlova’s meringue base, coupled with its sweet strawberry topping lends itself to the same complex beauty of the powerful ballet dancers that wear airy, silky tutus.

If you manage to make this cake, you’ll feel pretty glorious and get this blissful look in your eye.  The process can be intimidating, but if you start practicing now, you can only improve.  Even prima ballerinas have to start somewhere!  In the case that you over-whip your meringue, you’ll still be left with a delicious dessert of whipped cream and balsamic berries.

There are many parallels between the pavlova form and the moves of a ballet dancer.  Arrange a loose, wide meringue, like this move, or mound the meringue tall and tight, as if it were a dancer pulling her arms in tight for a spin.

Scroll down for the recipe!  Unleash your inner baker-ballerina.  Bakerina, if you will.

Balsamic Berry Pavlova (originally seen in the New York Times)

For the Meringue

Ingredients:

  • 4 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
  • A few drops vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9- inch cake pan as a guide. Flip the parchment over so the pencil marking is facing down (this ensures that the pencil won’t transfer to the meringue).
  3. In bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny.
  4. Sprinkle in cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and vanilla, and fold in gently.
  5. Mound onto parchment within circle, and shape into a disk, flattening top and smoothing sides.
  6. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in oven.

For the Topping

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
  • ½ teaspoon high-quality vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon high-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine strawberries, vanilla, balsamic vinegar and sugar.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  3. Whip cream until it is thick enough to hold peaks.

To Assemble: 

Carefully peel off parchment and place meringue on a platter or cake stand. Gently crack the top with the back of a soup spoon to make a shallow nest for the whipped cream and berries. Spoon cream evenly over meringue. Cover cream with strawberries, allowing a small amount of their liquid to dribble onto cream. Serve immediately.

Pineapple Rightside-Up Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down cake is so last summer… make my Pineapple Rightside-Up Cake instead!  If you’re in need of a summer-y dessert recipe just in time for Father’s Day, look no further.

This ombré style cake contains three layers of thick pineapple cake, two layers of caramelized pineapple, and a light vanilla buttercream frosting.  The cake is tangy with a satisfying chewiness; I wanted to mimic the toothsome decadence of biting into a Taiwanese pineapple cake.

To accompany my shoot, I found an African mini pineapple at my local supermarket.  I couldn’t separate it from its cake mother… don’t they look cute together?

Scroll down for the recipe!

Pineapple Rightside-Up Cake

For the cake (from She Wears Many Hats):

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 1/4 cup crushed pineapple with juice (canned)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, whites and yolks separated

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 5 inch cake pans.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a stand mixer, cream together butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks.  Beat until smooth.
  4. Add vanilla extract to pineapple mixture.
  5. Alternate adding the sifted ingredients and the pineapple to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.  Beat until smooth.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cups of sugar, and beat until fully combined.
  7. Fold beaten egg whites into batter.
  8. Divide cake batter between the two pans.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool before cutting or frosting.

For the caramelized pineapple:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup canned pineapple
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir mixture until it begins to brown.  Take off heat immediately.

For the buttercream frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • yellow food coloring

Instructions:

  1. Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar.  Gradually incorporate into butter mixture.
  3. Add vanilla extract.  Separate frosting into three bowls.
  4. Add 3 drops of yellow food coloring to one bowl.  Add one drop to another bowl.

To Assemble: Torte the two pineapple cakes into four equal rounds.  Use three of these rounds to build the cake.  Spread a thin layer of caramelized pineapple between each layer.  Frost with buttercream.  Apply dark yellow buttercream to the bottom of the cake, light yellow to the middle of the cake, and white to the top of the cake.  Achieve a smooth finish by using a bench scraper tool to blend the colors.