Pavlova, as a dessert, is about as close as a person can get to eating a cloud. Or at least the fluffy, airy, impossibly light idea of a cloud. This strawberry pavlova is a frilly, foamy affair. A later of crisp-on-the-outside, marshmallowy-in-the-middle meringue gets topped with whipped cream which gets topped with strawberries that a get a subtle whiff of smoke and citrusy brightness from spending some time macerating with a bit of sugar and mezcal and lime.
Pavlovas can be tooth-achingly sweet, but I like to mitigate that by using toasted sugar (which is optional, but like brown butter, can add delightful complexity to a dessert), and heaping on loads of fresh fruit with a good amount of natural acidity like strawberries. The mezcal and lime here are also optional–there’s no need to make a trip to the liquor store if it’s not the sort of thing you like to drink–but if you are at all tempted by the idea of strawberries punched up with a hint of smoke and sour then you should absolutely go for it. It’s a combination I find beguiling.
And best of all, this is one of those desserts that looks fancy, tastes wonderful, and is actually pretty easy to make. Go forth an fluff.
Strawberry Pavlova with Mezcal and Lime
Strawberry pavlova is a traditional Australian dessert. This one gets punched up with a bit of smoky mezcal and citrusy lime. It's a dessert that can sometimes be too sweet, so I cut back on the amount of sugar you find in some versions, and I love to use lightly toasted sugar here. It's optional, but it brings in great caramelly notes. You can, of course, skip the mezcal and lime if it isn't your thing, but if you like smokey flavors you owe it to yourself to try the combination. This is a dessert that's best served soon after making.
For the meringue
- 4 egg whites at room temperature (about 140 grams)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping
- 1 pound strawberries hulled and quartered
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (25 grams)
- 2 tablespoons mezcal (optional)
- zest and juice of half a lime (optional)
- 1 cup whipping cream (230 grams)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300°F. Trace a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper. (I usually trace a cake pan, or you can get out your protractor.) Flip the parchment over so the pen or pencil doesn't transfer to the meringue and place on a baking sheet.
Add the egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until peaks begin to form, then add the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Add the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla extract and beat for about 5 seconds more, just until incorporated. Mound the meringue onto the circle you drew on the parchment paper and smooth it into a circle. I like it to look a bit billowy and rustic, so don't worry about getting it perfect. Bake for 1 hour. It will be slightly browned and puffed and may have some cracks in it. Turn off the oven to let it cool.
Combine the strawberries, sugar, and mezcal and lime juice and zest (if using) in a mixing bowl and let macerate at room temperature for at least an hour.
When you're ready to serve carefully slide an offset spatula under the meringue to release if from the parchment paper and slide it onto a plate or cake stand. This is the most fiddly part of the whole process. Don't worry if it cracks a bit. Add the vanilla to the whipping cream and whip until if forms soft peaks. Mound the whipped cream onto the center of the meringue and spread, leaving about an inch around the edges. Then pile the strawberries and a bit of their juices on top. Slice into wedges and serve.