She vowed to eat lighter and exercise more as the new year began, but she just had to finish up those leftover Christmas cookies, chocolates and torrone, didn’t she? I mean, why waste perfectly good food? But then came January and there was that luncheon, that week out of town, that dinner party, that invitation to an opening reception, and all those good intentions to lose weight somehow never got realized. Moreover, Valentine’s Day was looming and shops were laden with more indulgent desserts than magazines have weight-loss ads. What’s a gal to do if she wants a little sweetness in her life?
Take a cue from a Russian ballerina and make a pavlova, that’s what. If you omit the cream filling and serve only with berries, it’s truly low-cal. But even with this filling, made with non-fat yogurt and creme fraiche, a little goes a long way. Or you could use it even more sparingly, plopping a dollop on top of the berries, rather than nestling the fruit on top of the creamy mixture. If calories don’t matter, take a different tack and use lemon curd or a custard cream for the filling.
First you’ve got to make the pavlovas. Whip the egg whites and sugar until they form stiff peaks, then put the mixture into either a pastry bag or a baggie with one end snipped off.
Form eight small “nests” about 3 1/2 inches wide. Use a spoon to shape a hollow in the center.
After baking, they’ll turn a little bit beige, but that’s ok. They need to be fully cooked and dry on the inside; otherwise, they’ll be gummy and sticky to eat. You want to be able to break into them easily with a fork or spoon, and not have to saw your way through with a serrated knife.
OK, now if this is dieting, I’m all for deprivation.
The dessert is named after Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There seems to be some disagreement whether it was created by a chef in New Zealand or in Australia, with each country claiming ownership. She must have been an exceptional dancer to have an exquisite dessert created in her name.
I’ve certainly not seen Pavlova dance, but I did see a beautiful ballet in Paris during my visit a couple of months ago – La Source. With costumes by Cristian LaCroix, it ranked as one of the most spectacularly costumed ballets I’ve ever seen. This photo is only a small sampling of his lavish creations.
The ballet was performed in the Palais Garnier, the place where operas were always heard until the construction of a new opera house in 1989 called Opera Bastille. Sadly, the Opera Bastille is a drab monolith has nothing of the grace and elegance of the Palais Garnier, the opulent beaux-arts gem that was built in the late 19th century.
4 large egg whites
1/4 t. cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees. If it goes down to 180 degrees, so much the better.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar on high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Using a pastry bag, or a spoon, make circles about 3 1/2 inches in diameter on the parchment paper. Use a spoon to create a small depression in the center.
- Bake for two hours then turn the oven off and leave them alone inside the oven – at least two hours. If you have time to leave them in the oven longer, so much the better. They must be completely dry on the interior, or else you could be biting into a chewy, gummy meringue. Carelly remove them from the parchment paper.
16 ounces Greek-style yogurt, drained (I put the yogurt in a coffee filter and let it sit overnight)
8 ounces creme fraiche
1 cup sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean
(I preserve vanilla beans in a covered jar filled with sugar. I have found that eventually the vanilla bean will dry out, in which case I chop it up and put it in the blender along with the sugar. The result is a sugar speckled with vanilla bean – great for desserts or for a special cup of coffee.)
- Drain the yogurt overnight, then with a wooden spoon, combine with the creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla bean.
- Spoon into the meringue shell and top with berries that have been mixed with a little sugar, freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice.