Serious Sweets: Orange-Cream Pavlovas

20110615-027677-Serious-Sweets-Orange-Cream Pavlova-small.jpg

[Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

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The stage is dark. A single, fluttering figure tiptoes into a small pool of light. Graceful, refined, angelical, the prima ballerina is above all, exquisite. In the 1920s while on a world tour, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova visited Australia and New Zealand. She inspired audiences and kitchens alike: it was during this trip that the pavlova—a meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit—was introduced.

The dessert has experienced many interpretations, from pistachio-flecked meringues to tropical fruit-infused custard toppings, but the combination of crisp meringue shell with marshmallow-like interior, slather of cream, and fresh fruit is always perfectly choreographed.

Pavlova meringue is pure white with a thin, crisp shell that gives way to a softly chewy interior. To achieve this structure, vinegar and cornstarch are added to the egg whites and sugar, the former to allow them expand and whip more fully, and the latter to produce the signature textural balance between exterior and interior. And very importantly, the meringue is baked in a very low oven.

This recipe for individual pavlovas is topped with one of my favorite summer flavors: orange-cream. The custard contains a generous amount of orange zest and juice, and a bit of lemon zest for extra zing. Orange segments and whipped cream are folded into the custard prior to topping the shells.