Lavender and Pistachio Pavlova
It's that time again - Is My Blog Burning time, in case you don't know - and this month's host is the Northwestern epicure par excellence Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant. Viv obviously was craving variety, because she chose one of the most infinitely adaptable topics imaginable - eggs. After long and careful deliberation about which preparation would let my eggs best show off their uniquely ovoid qualities - after all, what can't you make with eggs? - I settled on a dessert that relies on eggs for its very foundation. Literally. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's a pavlova.
And as a matter of fact, there were three birds I managed to kill with this stone: apart from using the requisite eggs, I managed to try out a recipe from a hitherto-unused cookbook, and I successfully tried my hand at a dish I had never made before. The cookbook I used is called The Herbfarm Cookbook, written by Jerry Traunfeld, who is the executive chef at the eponymous Herbfarm Restaurant. The restaurant, located in Woodinville, Washington (near Seattle - the home of our host, could that be a fourth bird in the bag?), is regularly listed among the top 50 restaurants in the world, and serves a seasonal Northwest cuisine based upon the vegetables and herbs grown on the restaurant's own land. The composed herb salads, for instance, are an integral part of every nine-course menu Traunfeld serves, and are legendary for taking the kitchen help up to two hours to harvest every morning. I have never had the pleasure of eating at the Herbfarm, but since buying the cookbook I have been eager to try out Jerry's signature herb-infused dishes. This pavlova in particular stood out, in no small part for its inclusion of lavender, my self-confessed goût du moment.
I discovered two things in making this: first, pavolvas are a cinch to make. The instructions for this look long, but there is really nothing complicated apart from some arm-exhausting eggbeating. The second thing, is that pavlovas are very ephemeral. I baked the shell this morning and filled it early this afternoon to photograph while the light was still good. This was about four hours ago, and despite putting the remains in the fridge, what I have now is a soggy, fluffy, fruit-topped omelette. You might be able to counter that by drying the shell out more - for example, Delia Smith recommends you leave pavolvas in the turned-off oven overnight to completely harden. Otherwise, just plan to finish it on the spot (inviting friends over may help). In any case, this is a delightful and very summery dessert, and the rich, nutty pistachios complement the subtle perfume of the lavender perfectly. In fact it's so good, there's really no reason to not eat the whole thing straight away.
Lavender and Pistachio Pavlova
Source: The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
For Lavender Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy cream
4 teaspoons fresh lavender buds, or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup superfine/caster sugar
About 2 tablespoons butter, for the parchment
1 cup raw unsalted shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups superfine/caster sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
6 large egg whites (3/4 cup), at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 to 6 cups mixed berries and/or sliced fresh fruit (I used strawberries, cherries, physalis (aka cape gooseberry) and raspberries)
Small sprigs fresh herbs, such as mint, anise hyssop, lemon balm, etc
and/or small organic/edible flowers, for decoration
1. Infuse the cream. Bring the cream and lavender to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine sieve, stir in the vanilla, and chill until cold.
2. Make the meringue. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Toast the nuts in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until just smelling fragrant. Cool. Chop 3/4 cup of the nuts until medium-fine. Trace a 10-inch circle on a piece of baking parchment, turn it upside down on a cookie sheet, and butter it lightly. Grind together the fresh or dried lavender with 1/4 cup of the sugar in a coffee grinder or food processor. Combine this with the rest of the sugar and the cornstarch, stirring to eliminate any lumps. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on high speed until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the lavender sugar, one tablespoon at a time, allowing about 5 minutes to get it all incorporated. Continue to beat for 2 more minutes. The mixture should be extremely stiff. Carefully fold in the chopped pistachios.
3. Bake the pavlova. Turn the meringue out onto the parchment paper and spread it out to fill the circle you drew. Form it high on the outside and depressed in the center. Press the reserved whole pistachios around the outside (and sprinkle with more lavender, if you like). Put the pavlova in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250F/125C. Bake for about 2 hours. It should be crisp on the outside but still like marshmallows on the inside. Remove it from the oven and cool completely. If you're serving the pavlova later the same day, keep it loosely covered with plastic wrap; if you want to serve it the next day, wrap the shell airtight in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.
4. Fill the pavlova. Whip the chilled cream with the 1/4 cup sugar until it forms firm peaks. Spread the cream on top of the meringue, leaving a border of about an inch all around. Arrange the fruit on top of the cream in an informal manner. Tuck the garnishes here and there among the pieces of fruit. Serve immediately for best texture; if you must wait keep it loosely covered in the fridge for up to 2 hours.