In the midst of January, we're faced with the annual dessert dilemma. We're seeking fresher options to finish a nice meal, since we're weary of chocolate, caramel and nuts. But it will be months before the pink rhubarb and ruby strawberries appear at market.
Consider making meringues. Light and buoyant, meringues are easier and less fussy than pie, and eggs are one item I usually have on hand.
Pavlova is a lovely, lofty, free-form meringue torte inspired by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova of the 1920s. An Australian chef created the dessert in her honor the evening she danced in Sydney. The best thing about a Pavlova is that once the shell is baked, you can fill it with your favorite fancy — whipped cream and berries, ice cream or sorbet. Winter is a good season to make Pavlova because the air is dry; meringue and humidity just don't mix. Now that Meyer lemons are at their peak, a simple lemon-curd-filled Pavlova is a beautiful finish to any meal, and one that puts the entire egg to work.
There are only a few tips for making meringue: Start with a very clean bowl (any grease clinging to the bowl or whip will hamper the egg whites' loft) and make sure when you separate the eggs that there are no specks of yolk left behind. Start with eggs at room temperature (they'll whip quicker) and begin on low speed, then ramp it up.
Add the sugar into the meringue very slowly and continuously as you whip; do not dump it in all at once (you don't want to crush all the beautiful foam). Finally, a Pavlova isn't so much baked as it is dried out, and once it's a lovely golden brown, turn the oven off and leave the meringue inside until it is completely cooled. When I make the Pavlova ahead, and don't plan to use the oven, I'll leave it there until ready to fill.
Lemon curd, smooth and zesty, is the perfect foil to the marshmallowy platform. It's easy enough to make if you're willing to stand by the pot for a few minutes because it demands close attention. The curd is also delicious on scones, as a filling for tarts and cookies, or whipped into cream for a lemon mousse. Sinfully easy, simply delicious, lemon-curd-filled Pavlova is just fancy enough for a dinner party, yet easy enough for an everyday treat.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.