This classic dessert from down under was created in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. It features French meringue that is crisp on the outside with a slightly chewy center and is usually topped with whipped cream and berries. This version showcases rhubarb, which is grown locally and widely available at markets and farmstands in spring. Since the meringue and fruit require different oven temperatures, the best approach is to make the shells in advance — they can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
4 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Set oven at 250 degrees.
2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks begin to form, about 1 minute. In 4 additions, slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and glossy with stiff peaks.
3. Sift cornstarch into the egg whites, add vanilla, and gently fold to incorporate.
4. Using a ⅓ cup dry measure and a spoon, scoop 8 mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking sheets. Use the back of the spoon to spread each mound into a rough circle and make an indent in the center. Bake until they feel crisp on the outside and the centers still have a bit of give, about one hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for another hour.
RHUBARB AND TOPPING
1½ pounds rhubarb, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces
¾ cup sugar
Grated rind of 1 orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream
1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. In a 9-by-12-inch glass or ceramic baking dish, combine the rhubarb, sugar, orange rind, and orange juice, and stir to combine. Scrape the seeds from the split vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the rhubarb. Bake for 25 minutes, gently stirring halfway through. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before adding the lemon juice. Set aside to cool completely.
2. Whip the cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to assemble.
3. Top each meringue shell with a couple of spoonfuls each of the whipped cream followed by the rhubarb. Drizzle over some of the juices and serve immediately.
By Claudia Catalano. Originally published in The Boston Globe.