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The fabulous pavlova

There may not be a better dessert than a fresh fruit pavlova. The history of the pavlova is a little murky.  Cooking lore has it that a chef in either New Zealand or Australia created the recipe to honor Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina sometime in the 1920's or 30's. Exactly who, when and where have been lost to history. Thank goodness this unnamed chef was so inspired, because nothing beats a crisp, yet marshmallowy, fruit and whipcream-ladened pavlova.

The secret is in the meringue

A traditional pavlova meringue is made with egg whites, sugar, vinegar, vanilla and sometimes cornmeal. My favorite pavlova recipe is a Gourmet magazine recipe created by Maggie Ruggiero, who makes three changes from the traditional pavlova that make hers spectacular. First, she adds brown sugar to the meringue, which intensifies both flavor and aroma. Second, she adds sour cream to her whipped cream creating a more complex flavor that complements the brown sugar. And third, she creates a pavlova "cake" by stacking three meringue disks, alternating with whipped cream and fruit, instead of the traditional single layer pavlova.

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Unlimited variations

The beauty of a pavlova, is the variations are endless. You can make a basic meringue, or add brown sugar, ground nuts or toasted coconut. Any fresh, roasted, grilled, sautéed or even frozen fruit will work. You can incorporate layers of lemon or other citrus curds. Chocolate or caramel sauce can be drizzled over the finished pavlova.  Just be careful not to over do as part of the beauty of a pavlova is its simplicity.

Composing your pavlova

It is best to assemble the pavlova right before you serve it as the weight and juices of the fruit will start to decompose the meringue. From a taste standpoint a little decomposition is fine, as you will find leftover pavlova every bit as intriguing as it was opening night. Visually, however, your pavlova will look best immediately after it is assembled.

Gluten-free dessert

If you are looking for a show-stopping gluten-free dessert, a fresh fruit pavlova is your answer. 

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