Martha Stewart, Shmartha Shtewart.
Those of you that have known me for a while know that my grandmother has been a huge presence in my life since I was very young. Gram (my mother’s mother) has played a substantial role from the time my parents and I moved back to Minnesota when I was just a toddler. She took care of me every day for many years while my mom was at work, and she’s been one of my best friends and, as I’ve grown older, my closest mentor. When I was in college we sent letters and postcards to each other on a weekly basis, and now I talk to her on the phone almost every day, even just to say hi and check in – and if you know me well you also know that I have an intense hatred of the phone, so you know what a big deal that is.
And for those that don’t know, you may not be surprised to learn that Gram is a cook and a baker, and the best I’ve ever known. But no – even that doesn’t sound right. She cooks and bakes, yes – professionally, even, for the last 20 years or so – but it’s more that she has an incredible sense of how to prepare food. From scrambled eggs or a peanut butter sandwich to fried walleye to the most amazing cheesecake you’ve ever had, she can put together the best snack, the best meal, or the best holiday feast you’ve ever seen. Her culinary style is by no means fancy or extravagant, but based on fresh, high quality ingredients meant to look, smell, and taste fantastic and designed to fit in perfectly with the occasion, the menu, and the preferences of the eaters (unless, that is, your preference veers toward the low-fat/low-calorie/low-anything). Some might call this tendency “Martha Stewart” but her style is far less kitschy and over the top and far more … understated? Rustic? Subtle? Lutheran? (There’s gotta be some Garrison Keillor fans reading this, right?)
Well in any case – Gram is a huge influence for me when it comes to the kitchen and to event planning, and before making something new or when looking for something to make I’ll often call her for advice. (This has worked well in every case, except the time I was going to a “healthy foods potluck” and she suggested I bring grapes, a baguette, and some triple-cream brie.)
A few weeks ago Brett and I hosted a somewhat-impromptu dinner party, and I wanted to make something for dessert. I had just made a batch of the best ice cream in the world and had a bunch of leftover egg whites that I wanted to utilize, along with two dozen or so golf-ball-sized peaches that we had gotten in our CSA box that morning, each with just a couple of bites of fruit surrounding the pit. I wanted something I could make ahead of time and/or that wouldn’t cause much stress around serving time.
She came up with something I know she’s made a thousand times (or more) for various catering jobs, though I’d actually never had it before. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of meringue – or at least I hadn’t been before – but this was absolutely perfect!
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.
Martha says to not make this on a particularly hot or humid day, but I can tell you it was nearly boiling in our kitchen this afternoon and everything was fine. I have a feeling it’s more the humidity that does it in, especially if it’s also hot. But it doesn’t hurt to try anyway!
- 7 large egg whites
- 2 pinches salt
- 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar (optional – we only had raspberry champagne vinegar, so I used that)
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 2 cups superfine sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- Whipped cream: premade, or 1 cup heavy cream, 2-3 tbsp sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla
– Preheat oven to 200F.
– Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper
– Beat egg whites with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer on low speed until foamy.
– Add salt, vinegar, and cornstarch to the egg whites and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form (about 4 minutes).
– Add the superfine sugar in four sections, beating on medium-high speed until the meringue is stiff and glossy with hard peaks (about 5-7 minutes).
– Use a spoon/spatula/measuring cup to spread approximately-½ cup dollops of meringue onto the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart – they will spread a bit when baking, though it’s not the end of the world if they touch each other. (You can also make one large pavlova and slice it into pieces to serve – but I bet it’s easier to make individual-sized servings like we did.)
– Create a bit of a dip in the center of each dollop with a spoon – they’ll bake in almost exactly the same shape that they are now, and you want somewhere to put the filling/topping.
– Bake for about 1.5 hours, until hard to the touch on the edges and firm in the center. When baked, the meringues will come off the parchment fairly easily, so I chose one on the sheet to be my tester – since meringue can break fairly easily if it’s not done all the way, I touched and prodded and moved this one to test how they were all doing. I don’t think there’s really an exact science to knowing when they’re done, but you don’t want them to color much. You can always reduce the temperature if they start to brown.
– Turn off the oven and let them cool in the oven (yes, the still-warm oven) for at least two hours. But keep an eye on them every 15 minutes or so in the beginning, to make sure they don’t start to brown – if they do, you can definitely take them out for a little while. You can actually leave these in the cool oven up to overnight, which makes them a great option for making ahead.
– When you’re ready to serve, lift the meringues off the parchment and prepare the toppings.
Toppings: I used whipped cream (whip heavy cream with sugar and/or vanilla) and fresh fruit (peaches and strawberries), which is the traditional pavlova topping. But Gram also mentioned that she likes to add lemon curd, which apparently makes it an “angel pie.” She also said she’s added cocoa and cinnamon to the meringue for more of a Mexican flavor, and I can imagine that a fudge sauce would also make a great topping. Coffee, caramel, and fruit sauces would also be great, I bet.