Blood orange pavlova
It’s egg whites time! We’re doing a series on this versatile and pretty scientifically amazing ingredient. If you missed the first post, go here to read about why you can whip eggs into billowy peaks and to get the recipe for delicious chocolate hazelnut meringues.
I made a tester pavlova (meringue base only) earlier this week and immediately fell in love with the delicate snap of the shell paired with the marshmallow-y tenderness inside. It’s like eating a cloud, people.
And it turns out clouds are delicious.
But this cloud also had a full cup of sugar and none of the fruit on top that helps redeem the finished product, so I nibbled at it, decided it was too delicious to keep around for long, and told my roommate to try it before I hid it from myself in the trash can. He took a bite and forbade me from throwing it out. When I came back from work the next day, it was gone. And that’s just the base of this amazing dessert: we’ll cover it with whipped cream and douse it in orange sauce and oranges before we’re done, because that’s just what we do.
The cloud relies on the same science as the meringues from the last post; in fact, it’s basically just a bigger version of the little cookies. Since you’re all already experts on the basics of egg white foams, today we’re going to tackle an ingredient that shows up in many meringue and pavlova recipes: cream of tartar. Yes, it is good for something other than snickerdoodles. In this case, its acidic properties create the optimum pH for your cloud.
The key to creating a perfectly stable foam lies in the interconnected web of egg proteins that bridges the water in the egg whites with the air, holding all those beautiful bubbles. If the proteins get too cozy with each other, though, they bond together too tightly and become as exclusive as the in-clique from a teen movie. Instead of stabilizing the air and water in a cohesive foam, the proteins hold on to each other for dear life and shut out everything else as your painstakingly whipped fluff collapses.
The proteins can bond with each other in a number of ways (which you can read about in detail here), but the one we care about right now is sulfur bridges. Some proteins have sulfur atoms almost free to interact with the world, protected only by a lonely little hydrogen (we show this as an S-H group, for sulfur and hydrogen). But hydrogen is a fickle friend, prone to wandering away and leaving the sulfur lonely and looking for new companions. It likes to stick to its own kind, so given the opportunity, it will latch on to a similarly bereft sulfur atom on another protein and form a long-lasting and close-knit friendship. Or a strong bond, if we’re talking chemistry. Lots of these sulfur-sulfur (S-S) bonds pull the egg whites too close together and break your foam–not good.
To prevent that, we need to make sure that the hydrogen atoms stick with their sulfur buddies instead of taking off and leaving the sulfurs open to bonding with each other. Pumping up the concentration of hydrogen in the surrounding solution does that in two ways. First, a hydrogen atom bonded to a sulfur atom is less likely to split, keeping the original S-H bond intact. Second, if a hydrogen does hit the road, the lonely sulfur atom is more likely to meet a different hydrogen before it encounters a sulfur, creating a new S-H bond. By maintaining the S-H bonds and preventing the S-S bonds that strongly link different proteins together, extra hydrogen protects your egg foam from over-whipping. Luckily, “extra hydrogen” is really just another way to say “acidic,” so all we have to do is add some sort of acid to get this benefit. Cream of tartar, a powdered acid, is the most common in the US, but vinegar, lemon juice, and other acids give you the same effect.
This is essentially a delicious cloud, covered in whipped cream, topped with blood orange sauce and orange segments. It’s just as heavenly as it sounds. Although there are three parts, they come together fast and the toppings can easily be assembled as the meringue bakes. Make sure to use a clean, non-plastic bowl for whipping the egg whites to prevent pesky fat molecules from ruining your foam.
Yield: one 8-inch pavlova, serves about 8
4 egg whites
½ t. cream of tartar
¼ t. salt
1 ½ t. cornstarch
1 c. sugar
½ t. vanilla
Zest of ½ blood orange
¾ c. heavy cream
1 T. powdered sugar
½ t. vanilla
Blood orange sauce:
4-5 blood oranges
½ c. sugar
½ t. cornstarch
1 orange (blood or navel)
Make the meringue:
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and grease it lightly.
Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until bubbly. In another bowl, mix the cream of tartar, salt, cornstarch, and 1 T. sugar. Add this mixture to the egg whites. Continue whipping as you slowly add the rest of the sugar, beating until the fluff reaches medium peaks. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and whip until stiff peaks form.
Use a spatula to spread the meringue into a circle about 8 inches in diameter on the baking sheet. Create a shallow well in the center for the toppings. Bake for 90 minutes, checking every half hour for browning. If you see color on the edges, reduce the oven temperature to 225. After 90 minutes, the outside should feel firm when you touch it. Turn off the oven, prop it open with a wooden spoon handle, and let the meringue cool completely.
Make the whipped cream:
Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and continue to whip to stiff peaks.
Make the blood orange sauce:
Juice the oranges until you have 1 cup of juice. Mix the cornstarch and sugar in a small pot and the juice. Heat until boiling, stirring constantly, and boil for one minute. Let cool.
Assemble the pavlova:
Supreme the orange: cut off the top and bottom so that you see orange flesh (not just pith). Place the orange on one of its cut ends and remove the zest and pith from the outside with vertical cuts. To remove each segment of orange, cut along the inside of the skin separating the segments and pull out the flesh. (For step-by-step pictures, check out this article.) Pull the segments into smaller pieces.
Spoon the whipped cream into the middle of the meringue base. Sprinkle the orange segments on top, and drizzle with blood orange sauce. Serve immediately.