While I am not a dancer in any capacity, I have always been enthralled by the art of dance, especially ballet. I never took lessons as a child, but my younger sister and I would frequently crack open an encyclopedia to the “ballet” article and try to emulate the illustrated poses. I have a pretty mean plié, guys.
Both my sisters did actually take ballet lessons when they were little, but for whatever reason, I did not. Likely, I was too self-conscious about my roly-poly little body being shoved into a leotard. Or perhaps my parents recognized my inherent lack of grace and dissuaded me to save me from embarrassment. To be fair, neither of my sisters were any good, and there are some hilarious ballet recital moments captured on VHS video.
In high school, I became enamored with So You Think You Can Dance. Generally, I’m not a reality TV person, and I can do without the whole voting on/voting off/three hour results show format. But I loved watching the dances. Especially those created by Mia Michaels, and Sonya Tayeh. (My sister and I have, in fact, attempted to replicate Mia Michael’s routine for Lacy & Kameron, set to Elisa’s “Dancing.” Luckily, my part as the male part is primarily standing and catching my sister while she flails around wildly.) If a dance routine makes me cry, I’m happy.
When my husband and I were in college, tickets to BalletMet Columbus became a standard date night for us. We bought season passes for several years. My favorite show of the season was always the one where they did a compilation of short dances. There was one dance where a single guy danced to “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone. And another with a couple dancing to “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra. So amazing. I wish I had videos of those dances, but I just have to rely on my memory.
So what does my obsession with dancing have to do with this dessert? The dessert pavlova gets its name from a Russian prima ballerina named Anna Pavlova. She apparently did a tour in Australia and New Zealand and they loved her so much they made a dessert for her. Getting food named after you is how you know you’ve made it in the world. I’m still waiting on some great chef to invent The Siriano.
The pavlova, with its sloppy, loose form, doesn’t seem quite as formal as a ballet dance, but it is just as beautiful. In fact, the billowy meringue is reminiscent of the tulle skirts you’d see in a Degas painting.
Pavlovas are a very sweet dessert, with no butter or flour to cut the sugar. I chose to accent the flavors of summer by using honey in the whipped cream and in the blackberry sauce. Our blackberries have just ripened for the first time ever, and I figured I would celebrate with this dessert. And maybe a little dance.
- 6 large egg whites (180 grams), at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch, sifted
- seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- 1 cup (145 grams) blackberries (plus more for topping, if desired)
- 3 tablespoons (60 grams) honey
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup (240 mL) cold heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons (60 grams) honey
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Set oven rack to the center position and preheat oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually pour in the sugar. Turn the mixer speed all the way up and beat until stiff peaks form and the sugar has dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add cornstarch and vanilla bean seeds and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Scoop six large discs of meringue onto your lined baking sheet. With the back of a spoon, create shallow divets in each disc, so that they resemble nests. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the outside of the pavlovas are hard. Turn off the oven, crack the oven door open with a wooden spoon, and allow to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
- Combine blackberries, honey, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, gently breaking up some of the berries. The sauce should still be pretty thin and watery. If you accidentally cook off too much of the water, add more water. Allow to cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a large mixing bowl and a hand mixer), combine heavy cream, honey, and vanilla extract. Beat until soft peaks form. Chill the whipped cream until you are ready to put the pavlovas together.
- Spoon a dollop of whipped cream into the wells of each meringue and spread out a bit. Spoon blackberry sauce over the whipped cream. Top with fresh blackberries, if desired.