In elementary school, we had to write an essay about how we pictured our lives as twentysomethings. I've tried to find that essay without any success but I'm pretty sure I know what that piece of paper contains. I probably dreamed of a life in a red cottage (so Scandinavian!) with a gorgeous husband and lovely children (so cliché!), as well as a cat, dog, and horse (cause I wasn't able to decide which one was cuter). Little did that brown eyed, open-minded, stubborn, and self-confident girl, who was born 200 years after 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ou la Mort!' echoed inside the Bastille, know about where life would take her to in the coming years; that life doesn't always look like the ones in Astrid Lindgren's stories. But does it make it disappointing? Not at all. I've traveled the world and realized both how wonderful and cruel it is at the same time. I may have missed opportunities but I've also said 'yes' and 'no' at just the right moments. I am loved. I'm able to create a career path of my dreams. I can be creative and share it with others; with you. My life may not be perfect but it's good. It's more than good. And that I'm tremendously grateful for.
My life is a bit like these mini pavlovas – maybe not as perfect looking as a layer cake with buttercream frosting but definitely enjoyable and lovable. Pavlova is probably my favorite summer cake and that's why I make it (almost) every year for my birthday. Of course, you can top a pavlova with any fruit of your choice but those winter pavlovas with kiwis and citrus fruit have never really grown on me. I like mine topped with lots of seasonal berries, such as blueberries, bilberries, strawberries, and raspberries. If you're living outside Europe, you may wonder about bilberries. Are they the same as blueberries? Well, not quite but they're closely related. They’re the European wild growing counterpart (and to make it a bit more confusing, we call them 'blueberries' as well). Bilberries are smaller and darker than blueberries but have a fuller, more flavorful taste which is why I most of the time prefer bilberries over blueberries. They’re also a bit messier as their skin and flesh stain everything blue from your fingers and lips to your tongue. As our summer cottage is surrounded by bilberry bushes (I literally have to walk two meters to pick a berry), they’re a heavily consumed summertime favorite. For these pavlovas I used bilberries and wild strawberries which I foraged earlier that day. However, feel free to use whatever berries you have around. I also won't judge you should you prefer to use kiwis and mandarines.
A few notes on meringue. There basically are three different types of meringue which all have distinct characteristics: French, Swiss, and Italian meringue. French meringue is the simplest one and especially popular among home cooks. Egg whites are whipped until stiff peaks start to form, sugar is gradually added, and the mixture is whipped until glossy. Quick and easy, right? Swiss meringue is made by warming egg whites and sugar over a water bath until sugar crystals dissolve completely. The mixture is then whisked until it has cooled to room temperature. Swiss meringue is more stable than French meringue and is ideal if you want meringue that’s crisp on the outside and marshmallow-like on the inside. Personally, I prefer Swiss meringue when making pavlovas because I want to achieve that chewy inside. Furthermore, the heating process makes the egg whites edible without having to bake them. Salmonella isn’t a problem here in Finland (it basically is non-existent), but Swiss meringue may be your top choice especially if living in a country where you have to be careful when consuming raw eggs. The third meringue type is Italian meringue that is made with boiling sugar syrup. It’s the most stable of these three and is, like Swiss meringue, safe to consume without baking. Of course, there are other techniques as well, such as Ottolenghi’s method that I can’t wait to try, but these are the three classic ones.
Now that we’ve covered the three different types, let’s talk about what ensures a perfect meringue. There are a few simple yet important things to keep in mind when making meringue:
- Make sure that your equipment is absolutely dry, clean, and grease-free. Any small amount of fat will keep your egg whites from getting fluffy. Egg yolks are fat as well so be careful when separating the eggs! Furthermore, it may be a good idea to rub your bowl with half a lemon before starting to make meringue to eliminate any grease.
- Prefer stainless-steel, glass, or copper bowls when making meringue as plastic bowls can hold onto grease.
- While eggs are easier to separate when cold, make sure your egg whites are at room temperature when you start making your meringue. However, this isn’t crucial if making Swiss meringue as the egg whites are warmed anyway.
- Think twice before making meringue on a very humid day. The sugar will absorb moisture from the air keeping your meringue from getting stiff.
- You often see vinegar or cream of tartar as well as cornstarch added to meringue. Vinegar and cream of tartar mainly stabilize while cornstarch helps to achieve a crisp outside and a chewy inside. These are optional, not necessary to make a successful meringue. In this recipe, I use lemon juice instead of vinegar or cream of tartar and omit cornstarch completely.
- My meringue formula is really simple and easy to remember: 1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar (by weight). In addition, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, or cornstarch as well as any kind of flavoring may be added.
- Meringue is versatile! You can mix in cocoa powder, berry sauce, different extracts, etc.
Mini Almond Pavlovas with Forest Berries
makes 6 small or 1 big (about 23 cm / 9")
For the meringue
4 egg whites (M)
290 g (3 dl + 2 tbsp; 1 ⅓ cups + 1 tbsp) granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
about 30 g (½ heaping dl; ¼ cup) sliced almonds
For the topping
200 g (2 dl; 1 scanted cup) heavy cream
200 g (2 dl; 1 scanted cup) Greek or Turkish yogurt
2 tbsp powdered sugar
about 500 g (1 l; 4 cups) berries
To make the meringue
Preheat oven to 125°C (260°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the egg whites, sugar, and lemon juice in an absolutely dry, clean, and grease-free medium-sized bowl, pot, or bain-marie. Place over a water bath. While constantly whipping, heat until the mixture has reached 60°C (140°F). At this point the sugar should have dissolved and the mixture starts to get thicker and glossier. Take off the heat. With the help of a standing mixer or electric hand mixer, whisk on high speed until the mixture is cool and stiff peaks form. (You can of course whisk it by hand if you fancy a nice workout. Been there, done that.) This usually takes 6 to 10 minutes. Carefully fold in the almonds.
Spoon the meringue into six equal rounds. Make sure that the meringue is slightly higher at the rims so that the meringue later holds the topping better. Lower the oven temperature to 100°C (200°F). Bake for 55 to 60 minutes. At this point, the outside should be crisp while the inside still has a marshmallow-like consistency (you can lift a meringue round and poke a hole in the bottom; no one will notice). If you decide to make one big pavlova, you'll need to bake the meringue for further 10 or so minutes. Let cool completely.
Unless you're living in a very humid area, you can bake the meringues one day in advance. Store them uncovered at room temperature until ready to assemble.
To make the topping, whip the heavy cream until very stiff. Gently fold in the yogurt and sugar.
Just before serving, top each meringue with the cream yogurt mixture. Generously top with berries. Serve immediately.