O.K., so this is the last post with mention of birthdays for awhile. I promise. My mom and brother just had theirs, Eric's is in November, and my dad's isn't until October, so I'll give you all a birthday break for 45 days or so. That being said, I can't wish the reigning Princess of Pasta (a.k.a. Giada, see previous post) a Happy Birthday and then ignore the Empress of E.V.O.O.! That's right folks. Today is the birthday of the woman who introduced such terms as "Yum-O", "Stoup", and "Sammies" into our vocabulary. The woman whose face adorns everything from a box of Wheat Thins to her future line of dog food (no, I'm not kidding). Mrs. 30 Minutes. Madam $40. Or, you could simply call her Rach. So, Happy 40th Birthday, Rachael Ray. You've really grown on me. Just don't let them talk you into singing your own theme song. That didn't even work out for Oprah.
Although it is highly likely that one day in the future there will be a burger, stoup, or sammie dubbed "The Rach" or the "The Ray-Ray", today you'll need to settle for a recipe that was named after another famous diva, ballerina Anna Pavlova. There is some debate as to whether this light dessert was created in New Zealand or Australia, but this fluffy meringue-based sweet is supposed to resemble the famous ballerina's tulle skirts. Mainly composed of egg whites and sugar, I love to make pavlovas because they are lowfat but satisfying, impressive looking, and very versatile with regard to flavoring. Toppings can range from fruit compotes and sauces, as with this recipe, to whipped cream, creme anglaise, mousse, and sorbet. Prepare one large pavlova to share or make individual portions, as I prefer to do, providing each person with their own little dessert. Here are some extra tips for preparing perfect pavlovas:
- To help with forming the pavlovas, I like to draw circles on the parchment paper and then turn it over, so that I can see them through the other side. If you don't have a set of round cutters, then invert a bowl or use a can from your pantry as a guide.
- Frozen or fresh strawberries will work for this recipe. You can also substitute raspberries, peaches, or blueberries.
- Try to add your own variations to the pavlovas. Fold in some lightly toasted coconut, sprinkle slivered almonds around the edges prior to baking, or gently mix some chopped dried cranberries into the meringue.
- The baked meringues with keep at room temperature, tightly covered, overnight, but they are best eaten the day they are prepared.
For the strawberry-rhubarb sauce:
4 stalks rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 pint strawberries, diced
For the pavlovas:
8 egg whites
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Prepare the sauce: Place the rhubarb in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vanilla bean, orange zest, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, and then immediately pour it over the rhubarb. Set aside until the rhubarb is soft and tender, about 1 hour. Drain the rhubarb and stir in the strawberries. Chill until ready to use.
Prepare the pavlovas: Preheat the oven to 275F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment with nonstick spray. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, salt, vanilla, and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until medium peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in the cornstarch.
Scoop the meringue out and form 8 equally sized mounds (4 per baking sheet) on the baking sheets, one in each quadrant. Using a spoon or offset spatula as a guide, form the meringues into 5-inch circles. With the back of a spoon, create a well in the center of each meringue.
Bake the meringues until they are crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside, about 1 hour. Serve the pavlovas topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and the strawberry-rhubarb sauce.