Pavlova—a marshmallow-y cousin to merengue, reportedly named after a Russian ballerina's tutu—is often thought of as a summer dessert. But, while it is lovely topped with fresh summer berries, our Kansas humidity can turn getting a pavlova to dry properly into an impossible task.
Instead, I urge you to consider making pavlova in the fall. Not only do cool, crisp days make baking one easier, with fresh cream and figs on top, a pavlova makes an exotic, but still seasonal, change from the endless cavalcade of apple pies we're all eating.
While you could write a dissertation on the science behind the techniques used to make pavlova—what makes the egg whites rise best, how not to crack it—unless you're a foodie nerd, it's pretty boring. For the average home cook you'll do fine by just listening to the experts' conclusions and not fretting about the reasons behind them.
To that end, to get good results 1) if at all possible, bake on a dry day; 2) start with room temperature egg whites and a very clean bowl and whisk; 3) add the sugar slowly; and 4) even if you ignore all the rest of this advice, absolutely do not open the oven door until your pavlova has had at least 2 hours to cool.
The following recipe is made partly with brown sugar, again, in a nod to fall. It's very sweet on its own, so don't sub out store bought whipped cream for the unsweetened whipped cream the recipe calls for. Black mission figs are best, but brown figs will taste good too.
Brown Sugar Pavlova with Figs and Whipped Cream
For the pavlova
- 6 room temperature egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon boiling water
For the whipped cream
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon whiskey or rum
For the figs
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 container fresh figs (6-7 figs), cut in half
Preheat your oven to 225 degrees. Draw about a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper, and use it to line a bake sheet.
In the scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. The egg whites should come to a point when you pull the whisk up, but that point should fall over rather than remaining standing.
While the eggs are whisking, mix together the white and brown sugar, crushing any lumps in the brown sugar. Then, continuing to beat the eggs whites, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Add the corn starch with the last addition of sugar, and continue to whip the mixture until it doesn't feel gritty when you rub a bit between two fingers.
Add the vinegar, vanilla and boiling water, then mix for about 60 seconds more. Scrape the pavlova mixture onto your prepared bake sheet, using the circle as a template to keep it the correct size. Put the pavlova in the oven for 1 ½ hours, then turn off the oven and let the pavlova cool for another 2 hours. Do not open the oven door at any time during the baking or cooling so that the pavlova doesn't fall.
Just before serving, whip the heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of whiskey or rum.
Meanwhile, prepare the figs by dissolving the 4 tablespoons of brown sugar in a medium skillet with 1 tablespoon of water. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the figs, cut side down. Cook until the figs start to caramelize; you'll know they're done when they smell amazing. Let the figs cool for a few minutes.
Top the pavlova with the whipped cream and figs, in that order. The hot figs will immediately make the cream start to melt, so serve right away.