This year, my birthday came and went the way I like for it to do: quietly, peacefully, and without most people making note of it. Family were far away, and I was not answering my phone, due to a combination of allergies and a nasty tooth problem having only recently been surgically resolved. I liked just kicking back & playing with my online pals, while watching Mark Harmon on my little hdtv.
However, once my parents had returned from their trip, there was a sense that we needed to observe both my birthday and the Bat's, inviting our local extended non-blood family to dinner and dessert. We went all picnic-y and grilled some chicken, served up potato salad, and somebody brought corn on the cob... for all that it wasn't local, & seemed out-of-season, that was really very good.
Anyway, when it came time for dessert, those who know our family were prepared for the fact that we generally don't have cakes, for ourselves. I make lots of them for other people, but we here are pie folk. And, while I didn't feel like rolling out crusts, I also wasn't in the mood for "store-boughten" pie dough, either. In fact, I'd read about a thing called a Pavlova, and thought I'd give it a try.
Now, a Pavlova has a somewhat clouded history -- both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to having served the first, in honor of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova's tour of the lands down under. It was supposed to be light as a feather, just as her dancing was.
Regardless of whose land gave birth to the treat, a meringue is an awesome way to elevate a bowl of fruit... The Bat and I had readied sliced strawberries for everybody but me (allergies), and some Kiwi fruit, some lemon curd, fudge sauce, white chocolate sauce, whipped cream (the real stuff), and some good company, any one of which is fine, but assemble them all, and you have a mess of happy trouble.
And I had made three pavlovas, as experiment.
One thing I learned: I like Splenda (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in my kitchen.
When you're making meringues of any sort, the trickiest part is really to get the sugars to dissolve smoothly in the egg white. Many recipes call for the use of castor sugar, or, in plain parlance, superfine granulated sugar. If you don't have easy access to that, because you live out in the boonies, a half-day drive from a decent baking goods supplier, you can take your regular granulated sugar and put it through a food processor/blender for anywhere up to five minutes per cup, depending upon the capabilities of your machine.
Don't do that unless you have to prepare your pavlovas more than eight hours in advance. Skip the sugar and go for the sucralose/maltodextrin stuff (if you can find some with probiotic additives, so much the better). It dissolves nicely and performs well in the end, as well. You just have to go by volume, and not weight, when you measure. And, remember, the artificial stuff is slightly sweeter per spoonful than is natural sugar.
Anyway, here's my (slightly lopsided, but nobody complained) pavlova:
4 large egg whites, allowed to come to room temperature
1 c. minus 1 Tablespoon sugar substitute (or 1 c. extra fine granulated sugar)
1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 Tbs corn starch
Fresh fruit of your choice -- berries, kiwi fruit, peaches, pineapple, or whatever you like (or a nice citrus curd, for an inverted, "crustless" meringue pie)
Whipped cream, lightly sweetened and with vanilla added
Place rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 250º F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper, draw a 7-inch circle on the reverse side of the parchment, then turn parchment back over so ink side is down.
In your clean, dry mixer's bowl (make sure there is no water, oil, or egg yolk in it), using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium until they hold soft peaks. Set mixer on high, then slowly add in sweetener (take your time, about a tablespoon at a time), until the meringue forms stiff and shiny peaks. Add vanilla extract.
Lightly sprinkle vinegar and corn starch over the top of the meringue, then gently fold in with clean rubber spatula. Do not over-mix at this point, or you will reduce the volume and create a rubbery meringue. Scoop onto parchment on cookie sheet, using spatula to spread it to cover the circle, and making a slight raised edge (create a shallow well structure so it can hold your choice of toppings).
Place on rack in oven, bake 60 to 70 minutes, or, until outside of meringue is dry and beginning to turn a pale golden. Turn off oven, open the oven door, and allow meringue to cool in place.
When using sugar, the meringue may be stored in a cool, dry, airtight container for a few days, but with the substitute sweetener, its crust has a tendency to soften and become sticky after about 10 hours.
Serve by piling on a great dollop or three of whipped cream, then sprinkling your favorite fruits or other toppings over the whole thing, then serve immediately, so the meringue's crust does not have time to become soggy.