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Glamorous Berries

Summer pudding and Pavlova



Even when I'm feeling fed up with food (not actual cooking, which I find simultaneously contemplative and entertaining, but with all the books and blogs and the smothering tide of information about the potential ethical and dietary consequences of what we eat), I always enjoy the beginning of summer fruit season. And for periods such as this, when my creativity in the kitchen is fallow and my awareness of bathing suit season is piqued, I make my annual summer pudding for a light, sweet end to a summery dinner. If I am feeling marginally more ambitious, I make summer Pavlova. Both these desserts are simple, butter-less ways to showcase the voluptuous early summer berries we see on sale in the grocery stores now (strawberries and blueberries are just as appropriate as any berry for the rest of the season).

Summer pudding appeals to me in three ways. One, it's easy to make. It involves hardly any "cooking." Two, the finished dessert is extraordinarily bright — liven up your drab life! Three, it facilitates fantasies of picnicking in British Victorian times, wearing gay summer dresses with shirtwaists and laughing demurely as you lounge on the riverbank with Errol and Colin and dish up this traditional, seasonal, delightful English dessert. Pavlova has fewer adorable British connotations, but it is named for the ballerina Anna Pavlova, and is appropriate for, say, a dinner party when you don't want a rich heavy dessert. Simply put, it's a giant meringue topped with berry compote. Meringue is one of my personal favorites, although it leaves one faced with the Leftover Egg Yolk Dilemma. If I was more organized I'd make custard but I'm afraid last time the yolks went to the cats. Think of it as feline altruism.

Summer Pudding

Ingredients and method:

2 pounds fresh mixed berries (any variety)

½ cup sugar (more if the berries are tart)

3 tablespoons water

1 pinch salt

10-12 slices white bread (sandwich, challah or brioche), crusts removed

Whipped cream for garnish (optional)

Wash, stem and roughly chop the berries. Put sugar and 3 tablespoons of water into a large pan. Gently heat until sugar dissolves, stirring a few times. Bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute, then tip in the fruit. Cook the berries for 3 minutes over a low heat, stirring 2 to 3 times. The fruit will be softened, mostly intact and surrounded by dark red juice. Remove the pan from heat.

Line a large glass serving bowl with plastic wrap, as this will help you to turn out the pudding. Push a bread slice into the bottom of bowl, then press slices along the sides, overlapping so all spaces are covered by bread to form bread walls along the sides of the bowl. Pour in the softened fruit and juice, then cover the top with more crust-less bread (cut more if needed). Trim any bread overhang with scissors if needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a plate, weighing the plate down with soup cans. Chill for 6 hours or overnight. To serve, peel back the plastic wrap on top and put a serving plate upside-down over the bowl. Flip the whole thing over and then remove the plastic wrap over the dome of bread. Serve with any extra berries and whipped cream.

Summer Pavlova

(adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)

Ingredients and method:

For the meringue

4 egg whites

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 pinch salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:

1 lb. berries, single variety of mixed

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup sugar

1 pinch salt

2 cups heavy cream

Mix the berries, vanilla, balsamic, sugar and salt and let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9-inch cake pan as a guide. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle in the cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and vanilla, folding the ingredients in gently. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, and shape it into a disk, flattening the top and smoothing the sides. Place it in oven and immediately reduce the heat to 300 F. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven.

Whip the cream to soft peaks. Remove the cooled meringue from the oven, invert it onto plate and peel off parchment (yes, the meringue is upside down). Use a spatula to apply a generous layer of whipped cream, then spoon over the berry mixture. Serve immediately.


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