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There and Back Again

Hooray for The Hobbit! Today's premiere is the cinematic event I've been waiting for since I saw the credits roll on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Like much of the general populace, I loved everything about The Lord of the Rings: the chic forest-green capes with leaf clasps, Legolas's acrobatic moves, Gandalf's wise ways, and the true meaning of loyalty, bravery and friendship.

For me, the only thing wrong with this otherwise riveting series was the food they ate did not seem all that delicious. It seemed bland, calorie laden and overly hearty – surely not the stuff to fuel our furry-footed friends on their harrowing journeys. If I were scurrying around Middle Earth avoiding Sauron's eye, I'd want to eat something light and maybe a bit sweet ... Pavlova? Eureka! To mark The Hobbit's premiere, I went back to this classic New Zealand dessert that had foiled me once before. I determined to make a perfect pavlova, a baked meringue topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

I was first introduced to the wonders of pavlova at an Australian restaurant in Hong Kong. I couldn't believe how delicious and simple it was. Meringue is the perfect vehicle for showcasing the fruits of the season. Being a fan of savory first breakfast, pavlova is exactly the sort of thing I'd want for second breakfast.

In addition to its taste, I am also drawn to pavlova for its engaging genesis. Australia and New Zealand have long locked horns in determining which country originated the recipe; both claim it as their national sweet. However, just a few years ago the one book to rule them all, The Oxford English Dictionary, settled the debate in New Zealand's favor. There's no dispute that the dish was named after Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured both countries in the 1920s. The edge of a pavlova dessert is said to have been inspired by her tutu.

Now on to the business of making it – Be patient. You should make it a day ahead of time as I learned the hard way that the meringue does need several hours, or even overnight, to set. I watched a few YouTube videos to steel myself for the task and got a recipe from the BBC, which I tweaked here and there. Below is exactly what I did and the results were stunning.

I paired the pavlova with a bottle of Fahrenheit 19 Grüner Veltliner Ice Wine, a nod to a dear Austrian friend. The Grüner and pavlova danced beautifully together; the roasted pecans atop the whipped cream especially tied all the textures and flavors together. This dish presents majestically and is a fantastic use of all the egg whites you'll have leftover if you make eggnog over the holidays. If you know you're going to have a big, Mordor-storming day, make a pavlova the night before to end it on a sweeter note of triumph!

Pavlova Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food

Ingredients:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 oz. light brown sugar
  • 5 oz. sugar
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 4 oz. heavy cream
  • Candied ginger
  • Roasted pecans
  • Raspberries and blackberries

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Blend the sugars in a Cuisinart so they are well mixed and any hard lumps in the brown sugar are broken up into fine sugar crystals.
  3. With a hand blender, whip egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Add a tablespoon of the mixed sugars at a time. When all the sugar is incorporated, add the cornstarch and vinegar and whip for a minute longer.
  5. Pour the meringue on to the baking sheet. Shape it into a 9- to 10-inch round with a metal spatula.
  6. Put the meringue into the oven and reduce the heat to 250ºF. Bake for 1.5 hours. When 90 minutes are up, turn the oven off and leave the meringue in there with the door closed overnight.
  7. The next day, take the meringue out of the oven and carefully take the parchment off and place your meringue on a flat plate.
  8. Whip the cream, slice the ginger and roast the pecans in the oven. When the pecans have cooled, slice them lengthwise.
  9. Spread the whipped cream onto the top of the meringue; don't worry if the cream spills off the sides. Sprinkle the top with the ginger, berries and pecans. When you slice the pavlova, add a few more berries to each plate.