Happy Spring! The fact that I have a post to coincide with the first day of Spring is completely and utterly a fluke. Nothing in my personality or organization style allows me the ability to think too far into the future, hence it always seems as if I'm flying by the seat of my pants. Each day has so much to fill it, so much work, so many events, thoughts and distractions that sometimes I wonder how any of it gets done.
Busy days are indeed good if not slightly crazy days, but the early arrival of Easter this year has caught me flat footed. Late winter (or should I say post winter) storms are blowing across much of the nation, here in the Pacific Northwest we are experiencing stormy weather systems and any little signs of spring that were once evident are now strangely harder to find. My crocus's died an early frozen death. Their once beautiful tulip-like flowers now wilted and gummy all over the ground. Sad. My daffodils, once massed in bunches of blooms are oddly now producing one or two pitiful looking specimens. No early sprouting of herbs either. My thyme and oregano bushes are black and lifeless.
We live in a micro-climate, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range and at 1,000 feet weather changes in a heartbeat, what is flourishing and flowering just down the mountain and 10 minutes from our house, is nowhere to be seen around here. It makes gardening an exercise in painful restraint. While the nursery and home improvement stores are filling up with beautiful plants and flowers, and customers are flying out the door with their lovely purchases I am left to stare in envy, wishing, hoping that I can somehow participate. The exuberance of color and variety of plants draws me in, in a hypnotic way and begins to convince me that I can, participate that is. Painful, expensive lessons from years past have taught me otherwise.
Spring Shoes: Despite the rain and freezing temps, I'm going for it.
So I must restrict myself to creating colorful "flowers" of a different kind in my kitchen. I pour over recipe books and catalogs looking for recipes that to me epitomize the essence of Spring. Lately I've been obsessed with meringue. If meringue is not the essence of Spring, I don't know what is. It's light, ethereal, airy (Low Fat! Yes!) and a ready repository for lemony fillings, light, fluffy cream and bright, juicy berries.
These delightful little pavlovas are not really "pavlovas" in the sense that they are not mounded round dollops. I decided to make these a bit more nest-like as a nod to Easter. To carry the Easter theme further you could fill these with whipped cream, ring them in toasted coconut and add a few chocolate eggs for a sweet Spring treat. These I'm filling with lemon curd, cream and berries.
Whatever you do, however if you've not tried making meringue before, don't be intimidated by it. It's really very simple if you do a few key things.
1. Use room temperature egg whites
2. Wipe your bowl and beaters with a paper towel dipped in white vinegar
3. Use superfine sugar or sugar that you've whizzed up in your food processor for a few seconds.
4. Add the sugar to the egg whites 1 T. at a time.
Following these simple steps will ensure that your pavlovas or meringues are light, fluffy and will hold their shape while baking. When prepared and baked properly they will be crumbly on the outside and softly chewy on the in. Meringues can also be tinted a variety of lovely pastel colors. Perfect for bringing a little Springtime Springyness to the table.
Mini Spring Pavlovas
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1 C. plus 2 T. superfine or caster sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. Draw 3 inch circles on one side of two sheets of parchment paper. You can easily get six to seven circles on a half sheet paper and pan. I used a jelly jar for this. Flip the sheets over and line two rimmed baking pans with them.
In the bowl of a mixer with a whisk attachment add the egg whites and the salt and mix on medium speed until frothy. Increase speed to medium high and begin adding the sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated.
Continue beating until the egg whites turn glossy and very thick stiff peaks form. Don't worry about over beating it. It needs to be thick! You should be able to hold the bowl upside down and have the mixture remain inside. I do this every time just to make sure I'm good, and it works.
Stop the mixer and add the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla extract. Mix again briefly on medium speed to incorporate. Now you can choose to tint it if you like or leave it white. If you do color it, I strongly suggest using gel food coloring.
I used a pastry bag to get my meringue neatly in the circles on the parchment but that is entirely unnecessary. A nice dollop on the paper then a smooth swipe with a knife to shape each one usually is good. Make an indentation in the middle, or if piping, ring the meringue into three outer layers then fill in the bottom. Smoothing with a knife or leaving them as is. If you'd like to pipe them and don't have a pastry bag, a large gallon-sized food storage bag with the corner snipped will work nicely too.
Place pans in the oven and bake for 1hour and 15 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom shelves halfway through. Once baked, open the oven doors a jar and turn off the heat. Allow the meringues to cool in the oven. Gently remove from the paper and store in an airtight container.
Once ready to serve, whip 1 pint whipping cream until soft peaks form. At this point you can fill the pavlova with just the whipping cream or you can add some lemon curd prior to the dollop of cream. Garnish with your choice of berries and icing sugar. Serve immediately. These are fragile little things so you really can't prepare them more than a few hours prior to serving them.
Or another option is to leave them plain, fill them with lemon curd and snarf them down. These look like eggs! Perfect for your springtime table.