I think a pavlova is the perfect holiday dessert. It is beautiful enough to be a centerpiece on your table, so light that it can follow a big holiday meal and its flavors can change with your every whim.
This Boozy Cherry Pavlova was inspired by the cherry cordial filling in the chocolates that are a holiday stocking tradition in my house. I cooked the cherries in champagne, cherry juice, and just a touch of sugar until they created a boozy syrup. This can be done with just juice for a virgin cherry variation.
Sometimes you come upon greatness from the oddest paths. When I opened Rebecca Firth’s The Cookie Book, I landed on this Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies recipe, not because of the gorgeous photo (or my absolute love of meringue), which are both strong enough reasons, but for the chapter title, called Jazz Hands.
This ethereal crown of meringue, filled with cream and berries is a Pavlova. The name comes from the ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was performing around the world in 1926 and made a stop in the land down under. From there the details get a little fuzzy and no one is quite sure if it was a pastry chef from Australia or New Zealand who first made this dessert for her. It causes a heated debate amongst them if you declare it one way or the other, so I am staying vague on the origin. This is one of my favorite desserts, because I am a huge fan of meringue in just about any form. I love how it looks, how it tastes and the texture it lends. Pavlova, unlike other meringues, is made with vinegar and cornstarch, so the end result is crisp on the outside, but still has some tooth (chew) on the inside. Traditionally it is served with fruit, such as berries and passionfruit (that’s what is dripping off the edge) and whipped cream. I also added lemon curd, but there are no rules and you can fill this with whatever moves you.
It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is.
My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation.
Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there).
We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.
Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he photographed Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything. That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)
Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.