Pavlova is a dinner party secret weapon. It is easy to make, can be done ahead in stages, is incredibly versatile and never fails to impress. Crisp on the outside, pillowy on the inside topped whatever delicious ideas you choose. I dreamed up this combination for a casual evening with friends inspired by an overabundance of summer fruit. I needed to use a lot of peaches, so adding a delicious layer of curd under some fresh slices upped the peach factor. When I served this, everyone oohed and aahed and took a small piece, but we ended up digging our forks into the slab right off the platter set in the center of the table.
The curd can be made several days ahead (just remember not to keep dipping into it too much while you wait!) and if there is any leftover it is wonderful on toast or swirled through yogurt. I like to make my pavlova the night before and leave it in the oven until ready use. Humidity is not the friend of meringue and the oven is a nice, sealed storage unit. If you need the oven, transfer the pavlova to an airtight container. Assemble the whole right before serving or the pavlova will lose its lovely structure.
A note on the shape of your pavlova: Round is traditional, and you can certainly go that route. I like this rectangular version as well because it makes lots of space for the lovely toppings and is easy to slice and serve. Whichever way you go, pick out a serving platter and trace an outline on the parchment paper so that the finished product will fit. I used a 9 by 13 pan for this one or make about a 9-inch circle. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet with the ink side down to use as guide to form the meringue. I like to use rimmed baking sheet flipped over so the parchment just slides right off without a risk of damaging the pavlova. You can spray a little cooking spray on the baking sheet to adhere the paper.
Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries
For the Peach Curd
2 peaches (about 14 ounces)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
For the Pavlova:
4 egg white
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whipping cream
3 fresh peaches
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups fresh blackberries
For the Curd:
Put a strainer over a medium bowl and set by the stove.
Peel the peaches. For just two peaches, I use a vegetable peeler and leave a little bit of skin on to add color to the final product. Pit the peaches cut into rough chunks and puree in a blender with the lemon juice until smooth. Add the egg yolks and sugar and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens. When you pull a spatula through the mixture, it should not run back together immediately. Dip a metal spoon in the mixture and when you run your finger through the clinging curd, the two sides should stay totally separate. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time, waiting until one addition is melted until adding more. When all the butter is incorporated, pour the curd through the waiting strainer, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and transfer to the fridge. The curd will keep in the fridge for 5 days.
For the Pavlova:
Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (see the note above) and set aside.
Put the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the whites are foamy, then sprinkle over the cream of tartar. Beat at medium high until the whites hold soft peaks. While beating at medium high, slowly stream in the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, until the whites are really shiny and stiff. Beat until really stiff peaks form – run a spoon or a spatula through the mixture and the peaks should stand straight up and not flop over. The sugar should also dissolve. Take a pinck of the meringue between your fingers and when you rub then together there should be no grittiness. When the egg whites are stiff, sprinkle over the cornstarch and fold it in gently, making sure not to deflate your meringue. Add the vanilla and fold it in.
Scoop dollops of the meringue onto the prepared parchment paper, staying within the lines. Use an offset spatula to spread the meringue to fill your desired shape. Use the spatula to make a bit of an indention on the top of the pavlova to hold your fillings. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in for 4- 5 hours at least, but overnight is best.
Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add some water. Slice the peaches (leave the skin on) and drop into the water. Stir to coat, then drain the peaches. This will keep them from browning. (the peaches can be treated, drained and kept in covered bowl for about an hour).
Right before you are ready to serve, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks in the stand mixer with the whisk. Carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter. Gently spread a generous layer of peach curd over the top of the pavlova, then spread the whipped cream over that. Top with the sliced peaches and blackberries.
Slice and serve.