As a teen, I remember having lots of conversations with my mother about dating and relationships. Of her many “isms”, the one I heard most was “Looks aren’t everything. It’s what’s on the inside that matters.” Of course, she was right, but my superficial 16 year old brain didn’t always agree. Before I settled down with Mr. SGCC, I dated a wide variety of boys. Some were blindingly beautiful, and some had other, less obvious attributes. More often than not, the pretty boys turned out to be a disappointment. They were usually too busy flexing their muscles and gazing at their own reflections in the mirror to worry about such mundane things as developing a personality or perfecting the art of conversation. Though I hate to admit it, it was almost always the slightly rumpled, kind of quirky guys that I had the best times with. They were the ones that made me laugh and feel special. They had substance.
Oddly enough, I’ve found the same thing to be true when it comes to desserts. I can’t count the times I’ve drooled over a display of stunningly perfect pastries or cakes, only to be disappointed when I took that first bite. Sadly, they don’t often taste as good as they look. I guess looks aren’t everything in the world of sweets either. This Chocolate Pavlova Torte with Raspberry Dream Cream is a good example. On the outside, it looks kind of craggy, drippy and messy. It wears its flaws for the world to see. But on the inside, it is crunchy, creamy and chewy all at the same time. It has personality up the wazoo. And, it is truly sublime!
A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert with a crisp, crackly outer shell and a lovely, soft, pillowy center. It is said to have been created in honor of the famed 20th century Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. It’s a light and ethereal dessert that is often served covered with fresh fruit and whipped cream. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve taken it a step further, studding mine with bits of rich dark chocolate and smothering it with an incredible silky and luxurious raspberry cream.
My Raspberry Dream Cream is inspired by Pierre Herme’s Extraordinary Lemon Cream found in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours. I am absolutely mad about that lemon cream! So, when it came to finding a filling for my chocolate pavlova, I decided to adapt Dorie’s recipe using raspberries instead. The method for making the cream is similar to that for making a fruit curd. The difference is that the butter isn’t cooked with the other curd ingredients. Rather, it is added in after cooking and cooling them, creating an emulsion. Dorie says that because the butter doesn’t melt and re-firm, as it does with curd, the resulting cream is lighter, richer and well… creamier. I can’t vouch for the science involved, but I can say that the cream definitely lives up to its name. It is extraordinary, and it tastes like a dream!
To make the pavlova shells, I used my favorite recipe by Nigella Lawson. They aren’t really difficult at all to make, but baking them can be a little tricky. It is important to cool them completely inside the oven after baking to avoid having them collapse. They are still delicious even if they do fall. But, why not avoid that if you can.
You can see from the photos that my pavlova shells did not turn out perfectly. Honestly, I didn’t dare cut it before I photographed it for fear of it falling apart! Unfortunately, when dealing with large hunks of baked meringue, some cracks and dings are inevitable. I like to think that these are part of their charm. That said, it is amazing what copious amounts of cream and fruit can hide. Don’t ask me how I know this. Just take my word for it.
So, there you have it – an imperfect dessert that is just perfect as it is, flaws and all. With this much personality, looks really aren’t everything.
Chocolate Pavlova Torte with Raspberry Dream Cream
adapted from Nigella Lawson
- 6 large egg whites
- 10.5 ounces (300 grams) sugar (about 1 1/3 cups)
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 ounces (57 grams) dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 cups Raspberry Dream Cream (recipe follows)
- 1 pint (500g) raspberries
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw two 6 to 8-inch circles on the parchment with a pencil. I usually lay round plate on the parchment and trace around the perimeter.
- Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until satiny peaks form. Then, beat in the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until the meringue is shiny and forms stiff peaks. Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and chopped chocolate over the egg whites, and gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.
- Mound one half of the mixture onto each of the circles on the parchment paper, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 F. Bake for about 1 hour. When it’s ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but feel springy when you touch it. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let the pavlovas cool completely.
- While the pavlova shells are cooling, whip the cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar and keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
- When you’re ready to serve, remove one pavlova shell to a cake platter or serving dish. Generously spoon on the raspberry cream and top with fresh raspberries, reserving some for garnish. Place the second pavlova shell on top and spoon on copious amounts of the whipped cream. Garnish with the rest of the raspberries.
- Once prepared, the torte should be served immediately. You can make the pavlova shells a day or two in advance and store them in a large, sealed zip lock bag. Toss a paper towel in the bag with the shells to absorb any moisture which will make them soggy.
Raspberry Dream Cream
inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours
- 1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries or 12 ounces of frozen berries
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (21 tablespoons; 10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
- Puree raspberries and lemon juice together in a blender. Strain through a sieve to get out all of the seeds. Reserve 1 cup of the puree and discard the seeds.
- Combine the sugar and eggs in the bowl of a double boiler, or a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Whisk the sugar and eggs until well-blended. Then, whisk in the raspberry puree.
- Fit the bowl into the pan and cook, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180°F. Make certain the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. The cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger. As the cream is gets closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Keep whisking and checking the temperature. This can take up to 10 minutes. As soon as the cream reaches 180°F, remove it from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender or food processor. Let the cream rest at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10-15 minutes.
- Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add about 5 pieces of butter at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed. Once the butter is in, keep blending the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
- Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill the cream for at least 4 hours or overnight. When you are ready to use it, just whisk the cream a little to loosen it.
Makes approximately 2 cups.