These luscious treats, known as pavlovas, were named in honor of Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina and international dance sensation of the early 20th century. The billowy, meringue base is said to represent a tutu, and like a classical ballet, the dessert is filled with delicious drama: the outside is crisp and delicate like a cookie, while the center is as soft as a marshmallow. Homemade whipped cream and fresh fruit complete a dish that will earn young cooks a standing ovation.
Heat the oven to 275. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the sugar and cornstarch until they're well blended, then set the mixture aside. In a large mixing bowl, use a hand or stand mixer set on medium speed to beat together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until the mixture is foamy and holds soft peaks, about 2 to 3 minutes.
*To separate an egg white from the yolk, crack the egg in half and tip the yolk back and forth between the halves, letting the whites spill into a bowl. Any yolk in the bowl should be scooped out.
Increase the mixer's speed to medium-high, slowly add one-fourth of the sugar mixture, and beat until the sugar has dissolved. Repeat, adding the sugar in three more batches and scraping down the sides as you work. When the whites are sturdy enough to hold a stiff peak, add the vanilla extract and beat to blend the mixture evenly.
With an ice cream scoop, place 1/3 cup portions of the meringue about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. You should have enough to make 12 servings. Gently use the back of the scoop to make a well in the center of each mound.
Place the meringues in the oven and reduce the oven's temperature to 250. Let them bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until they are crisp on the outside but have not changed color significantly. Transfer the meringues from the baking sheets to a wire rack. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then gently lift each meringue off the sheet and place it directly on the rack to cool completely.*
*Too many treats for one sitting? Cooled meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
Remove the leafy tops of the berries and slice them into quarters. In a medium bowl, toss the berries with 3 tablespoons sugar, stirring them until they're well coated. Set the berries aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help release their juices, then cover and refrigerate them until serving time.
For the whipped cream topping, use a hand mixer set at medium speed to beat together the cream and the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar in a large mixing bowl for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and continue beating, scraping down the sides if needed, until the cream holds stiff peaks, about 3 to 4 minutes.
To assemble each dessert, place a meringue on a small plate and spoon whipped cream into the center. Drizzle on the berries and juice.
Originally published in the June/July 2012 issue of FamilyFun