Victor Protasio
Active Time
35 MIN
Total Time
3 HR
Yield
Serves : 6

Sometime in the ’80s my mom brought our first microwave home and set it up on a large table at the back of our gold-wallpapered kitchen. My brothers and I crowded before it on our knees, as if around an altar, to properly worship it. The first thing my mom cooked was a teacup full of water—it simmered; she was sold. For our part, we kids quickly moved on to blowing things up. Hot dogs burst open impressively, their fissures spitting lava-hot juice into the air.

Marshmallows were positively cinematic: At 10 seconds a jumbo marshmallow doubled, then quickly tripled, and then quadrupled its original volume. It stayed there at the overblown-bubble stage for a few suspenseful moments before suddenly exploding into a pale wrinkly pancake that progressed from the color of sand to coffee to burnt toast right before our very eyes. It was the lifespan of a marshmallow, birth to death, in one minute—and we were transfixed.

I guess the wonder never left me, because when I make a pavlova, I feel the same thrill as I did when I was blowing up marshmallows. A pavlova is just an egg white meringue, solidified with a little cornstarch, and spiked with a tempering shot of vinegar, baked into a soft bed of sugar. Being a grown-up, I approach it in a much more controlled and scientific way, and stop sensibly at the point where the foam stabilizes just enough to hold, well before the white cloud can get sunburnt. My platonic-ideal pavlova is the size of a Barbie hot tub, still gooey at the center, and filled with tart cooked fruit, preferably rhubarb. I lay out the rhubarb in long bias-cut spears and bake them uncovered in a reduced wine syrup, ever so gently, until the rhubarb constricts in its own sugary juices—softening but never losing its shape or its spine-tingling tartness.

To be nostalgically accurate, the only wine I knew around the time the microwave arrived came from the box that sat directly next to it, which was called Franzia White Zinfandel. It shot into my mom’s glass in a froth of pink bubbles as innocently as soda pop. For this syrup I rely on rosé—more classy and current, it reduces perfectly with the rhubarb juices into a lurid, floral pink syrup. The color of teen girl power trapped inside a Miami Vice sunset, its flavor is tame but latent.

When I feel down, or dulled, or even when things feel just a little too matchy-matchy, I heed the old call to worship at the altar of white sugar. I go and whip up a pavlova just to prove to myself that the joy of that first overblown marshmallow, the seed of what I knew then, is still there.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Make the rhubarb: Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine wine, 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean, and lemon peel strips in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium, and cook until reduced to about 2/3 cup, about 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, vanilla extract, rosewater, and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar.

Step 2    

Trim and discard ends of rhubarb stalks, and rinse stalks. Cut stalks into 3/4-inch-thick slices on a deep diagonal. Transfer sliced rhubarb (about 6 1/2 cups) to a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Pour syrup evenly over rhubarb.

Step 3    

Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and gently tilt pan and spoon syrup over rhubarb to glaze it. Return to oven, and bake until rhubarb is soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and glaze once more with syrup. Let stand until cool. Refrigerate rhubarb up to 1 week (it gets firmer and brighter as it sits).

Step 4    

Make the pavlovas: Preheat oven to 250º F. Combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a bowl. Beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until egg whites hold medium peaks (more than soft, but not yet firm), about 3 minutes. With mixer running, gradually add 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, over the course of 3 minutes. Add cornstarch to remaining 1/4 cup sugar; stir until no lumps remain. Add sugar-cornstarch mixture to egg mixture; beat until mixture is firm and glossy, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar; beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Step
Step 5    

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and secure paper to pan by dabbing a bit of meringue underneath corners. Dollop meringue into six individual poofs, going for height over width (3 to 4 inches in diameter). Using the back of a spoon, make a deep divot in the center of each poof. Bake in preheated oven until firm, pale, opaque, and the surface cracks when pressed, about 45 minutes. (The interiors will remain slightly soft and marshmallowy.)

Step 6    

Finish the dish: Just before serving, beat cream and sugar to soft peaks with an electric mixer. Fill each pavlova with 2 to 3 tablespoons whipped cream, and top each with 1/2 cup rhubarb. Drizzle each with 2 1/2 tablespoons rosé syrup; garnish with pistachios.

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