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Strawberry-Rhubarb Pavlova

From The Farallon Cookbook by Mark Franz and Lisa Weiss

6 large egg whites
Large pinch cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Rhubarb Cream:
10 ounces rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Strawberry Sauce:
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons sugar

This and many other wonderful
recipes may be found
The Farallon Cookbook
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Debate rages in the Southern Hemisphere about the origins of the pavlova, and whether it was first created in Australia or New Zealand. It's still a bone of contention between the two countries, but there's no dispute that this light and ethereal meringue dessert was named for the famous Russian ballerina who visited both countries in the 1920s. A traditional pavlova is a little cake of meringue, crispy on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, said to resemble a tutu, and filled with whipped cream and fruit, usually strawberries, kiwis, and passion fruit pulp. I've played a bit here with tradition, and in this heavenly Farallon version little pavlova clouds simply sit atop mounds of whipped rhubarb cream (with crunchy pieces of meringue in it) and strawberries.

Chef's Tip: This recipe calls for a French meringue that, when cooked in a low oven for a long period of time, hardens on the outside but stays tender on the inside. Other versions are made with Italian meringue and are baked hard all the way through, or are soft and airy like the Swiss meringue that is used to top desserts like lemon meringue pie.

To make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 200°F. Draw eight 2 3/4-inch circles on a piece of parchment paper, leaving about 1/4 inch between each circle. Turn the paper over and put it on a baking sheet (the drawn circles should show through).

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to high. In a slow, steady stream, add the sugar. Beat the whites until thick and glossy, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold in the vanilla extract. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch star tip and fill with the meringue.

Using the drawn circles on the parchment paper as a guide, fill the circles with piped stars so they are all touching, pulling up on the bag as you're squeezing out the meringue so that the stars end up about 2 1/2 inches tall. You will end up with a solid disk (a crown) made up of piped stars. Repeat for the remaining 7 circles. Pipe the remaining meringue into small 1/2-inch-diameter stars. (These will be used in the rhubarb cream.) You will need about 40 small meringue stars.

Bake until the stars are dry, about 1 hour; they should be a little chewy in the middle. Remove the tray from the oven and let sit for 2 minutes. Remove the stars from the baking sheet and return the meringue crowns to the oven. Bake the crowns until dry, another 15 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 2 minutes and then remove the crowns with a spatula. Set aside until ready to use, or let cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 day.

To make the rhubarb cream:
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is soft, about 15 minutes. Let cool, then puree in a food processor. Cover and refrigerate until cold. In a deep bowl, beat the cream until very stiff but not grainy peaks form. Fold in the chilled rhubarb puree, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

To make the strawberry sauce:
Puree one-third of the strawberries in a small food processor with the sugar until smooth. Add a little more sugar if the strawberry sauce is not sweet enough. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 day.

To serve, cut the remaining strawberries into thin slices. Set aside. Fold the meringue stars into the rhubarb cream. Divide the rhubarb cream among 8 dessert bowls, being careful to distribute the meringue stars equally. Place the sliced strawberries in a fan decoration around the rhubarb cream. Top each serving with a meringue crown. Pour strawberry sauce around each meringue.

Depending on the season, the rhubarb and strawberries can be replaced with whatever fresh fruit strikes your fancy. Berries are the obvious replacement, but you can also use combinations like ripe peaches and nectarines, or passion fruit, mangoes, and kiwis.

The rhubarb cream can be made 4 hours in advance. The meringue stars and crowns can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day if it's humid, longer if it isn't. The strawberry puree can also be made up to I day ahead.

You could omit the stars and piping bag and simply spoon the uncooked meringue into mounds, depressing the centers slightly. To serve, fill with the rhubarb cream. Drizzle the fruit puree around the plate and place the cut strawberries on top.

This dessert is a natural for Bracbetto, the rare late-barvest wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Not only will the delicate, spicy, floral flavors complement those in the dessert, but the unusual dusty pink color will make for a visual feast as well.

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