Awhile back, when I hosted my In-Home Yoga Ladies’ Night, I was faced with a dilemma common to many of us these days: the need to make a dessert (or any shareable dish, really) for a group of people with various food allergies and avoidances. I won’t go into my strong opinions on the current trends in food avoidances just now–I’ll save that frothing-at-the-mouth rant for another post. Suffice it to say that regardless of my opinions on other people’s food choices, when I invite them to eat at my home, I want to at least make some kind of effort to accommodate their modified diets, if I can keep track of them. In this particular instance, the goal was to create a dessert that was both gluten and lactose-free (and still actually tasted like a dessert, not a ball of wax). Well hmmmm, I thought, that knocks out just about every one of my personal favorite desserts. Ix-nay on the ownies-bray right there, as well as the ie-pay and the ookies-cay. Even the ice cream and udding-pay! What’s left?
I’ll tell you what’s left: SUGAR. No one’s allergic to sugar! But setting out a bowl of sugar for guests to dive into like a free-for-all dog dish really doesn’t scream elegance. Thankfully a thought in the back of my brain came along to whisper “Pavlova!” Pavlova is a meringue, which means its primary ingredients are egg whites and sugar whipped into a frenzy to create what I would describe as a “crusty pillow” if that didn’t sound so gross. Because really, this dessert is divine, and not at all like a crusty pillow, except that it has a lovely crunchy outside crust and a pillowy, marshmallow-y inside. Pavlova, if you’ve never heard of it and are wondering why it has a Russian name, was named for the ballerina Anna Pavlova, presumably because of her airy, delicate grace (“pillow”) and maybe because she became a crusty old broad later in life (“crust”)? Don’t quote me on that. Legend has it that a New Zealand chef created this dessert in her honor, and it has apparently become the national dessert of New Zealand. P.S. There is no national dessert for the U.S. Please write your congressman immediately.
For my yoga ladies’ night, this delicate dessert was a definite hit, and I must say everyone was surprised and very pleased to discover they could eat it, even with their modified diets. My kids also went nuts for it the next day when they were allowed to eat the leftovers. My 7-year-old even requested it for his next birthday cake. So the next time you’re on the hunt for a gluten and lactose-free dessert, keep pavlova in mind for something with pretty presentation and amazing taste. Let’s just hope no one’s allergic to eggs, cause in that case, I got nothin’.
Pavlova with Fresh Berries
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)
4 egg whites (carefully separated so that not even a speck of yolk is included)
1 1/4 c. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. cornstarch
10 oz. container TruWhip whipped topping*
3/4 c. fresh blueberries
1/2 c. fresh raspberries
*Note: TruWhip is lactose-free, but does contain a trace amount of milk protein. Bear this in mind when preparing this to be allergy-friendly.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper. Trace a circle around a 9-inch pie pan on the parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. (This means small peaks will stand up on the end of your beaters when you turn the mixer off.) Add sugar gradually, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, beating after each addition. By the end, the mixture should be thick and glossy.
- Gently fold in vanilla, lemon juice, and cornstarch.
- Spoon mixture into the pre-drawn circle on the baking sheet, smoothing with the back of a spoon to build up a slight edge around the outside.
- Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, transfer to a serving platter, spread evenly with TruWhip, and top with berries.