I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with dinner parties. When I think about having one, I envision white linen tablecloths with elegantly mismatched vintage stemware and laughing guests sitting around sipping on gewürztraminer. I’d wake up in the morning with a perfect top knot bun in my hair and ride my bike to the farmers market to pick up big bouquets of ivory and ballet pink peonies, place them in a wicker basket on my bike and come home to whip together a gourmet salad with big hunks of burrata and shiny slices of heirloom tomatoes.
Basically my perfect dinner party is me starring as Ina Garten in an episode of Barefoot Contessa. Everything looks so darn easy and refreshing and chic. I always think, ‘Sure, I could do that!’. That is, until I’m running around my kitchen like a chicken with my head cut off because the market wasn’t open that morning, peonies are out of season, my oven is overheating the house so I’m sweating in my yoga pants and I still. haven’t. showered. My friends all start texting and showing up with uninvited guests and I’m trying to hand whip fresh cream in a dirty apron that says ‘I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I add it to the food!’ We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
So why do I torture myself? I blame Pinterest. Those softly lit pictures of patterned Anthropology napkins laid next to cucumber smoked salmon canapes and tea light candles in mason jars get. me. every. time. Or perhaps it’s just my vision of elegance and splendor that never aligns with the reality of my life. It’s not so easy to make those polka-dotted straws match the cray paper banner that I just happen to whip up in minutes before the guests show up at my door. It’s just never as simple as you think. So while I would love to invite you over for a stylish yet perfectly bohemian dinner party, the fact is it’s just not going to happen.
It’s not because I don’t love you. I do. I’m pretty lucky to have found some amazing friends since moving out here to the Bay Area. So I tell you what, why don’t you whip together a little cocktail party? You can do the cleaning, prepping, decorating, and other work that was only suppose to take an hour, and I’ll show up with this: a stunning pavlova. Everyone will think I slaved in the kitchen, when in fact it’s probably one of the easiest desserts to boot. I might even bring it on a cake plate for extra flash. Who knows? Things could get crazy. I’ll look like a rock star, and you’ll probably look exhausted. No worries, it will all be over soon.
Summer Pavlova with Mixed Fruit
This summer pavlova might be my favorite dessert of all time. Crispy meringue with a chewy interior laced with vanilla bean and doused in fresh whipped cream and fruit. Absolutely divine. Named for the ballerina Anna Pavlova after her 1920s tour of New Zealand and Australia (there is still a rivalry between the two countries over its origins), the beautiful dessert was considered ‘as light as Pavlova’.
I love making pavlova because it can be made ahead of time, finished with whipped cream and whatever fruit you have on hand, and yet still is a showstopper when served. I always make meringue by heating egg whites and sugar over a double boiler (same method as a swiss meringue buttercream). There’s no need to buy special equipment for a double boiler as it is just a pot of about 1-2 inches of simmering water with a metal mixing bowl set over (ensuring the mixing bowl does not touch the water). I like this method because it produces a stable, even finished product, but you could skip the heat and beat the egg whites in a stand mixer on medium until they hold soft peaks and then increase the speed to medium high and beat in superfine sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until they hold stiff peaks.
4 egg whites (120 grams)
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
pinch of salt
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 Tbl. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey)
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (Nielsen Massey)
1 1/2- 2 cups diced fresh fruit (I toss mangoes, strawberries, kiwi, and a peach with fresh mint)
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 Tbl. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat your over to 250°F . Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and draw a 9 inch circle (I use a cake pan as a guide) in the middle. Flip the parchment paper over so you don’t get any residue on your meringue and set aside.
Using a kitchen scale, measure out the egg whites, sugar, and salt into a metal mixing bowl and set over the simmering water, ensuring it doesn’t touch the water. (check here if you need further directions). Whisk the mixture constantly until the temperature reaches 160ºF. Remove from heat, strain into a mixing bowl, and whip on high until stiff peaks form. Add in vanilla, vanilla bean paste, and white vinegar and mix until incorporated, and then sift in cornstarch and beat another minute on high.
Spread the meringue out on the parchment lined sheet pan to ensure it fits within the circle, building up the sides slightly. Bake 50-60 minutes, checking once halfway through cooking to make sure the pavlova isn’t browning (if it is, reduce temperature by 25 degrees and continue baking). Once finished, the meringue will be dry to the touch and pale, turn the oven off and leave with the oven door slightly ajar for another hour. When the meringue is completely cool store in an airtight container overnight, or simply leave in the oven overnight.
The next day (or after the meringue is finished) toss chopped fruit (mangoes, kiwi, peaches, strawberries) with a handful of fresh mint and set aside. Whip the cold cream in a stand mixer with powdered sugar until soft peaks. Fold in vanilla extract.
Place the meringue on a cake plate and evenly spread whipped cream on top. Spoon the mixed fruit on top of the cream and serve immediately.