If perky (and talented) Ina Garten had a doppelgänger who was taller, blonder and Swedish, that would be my sister-in-law. Nancy could bake an 8-tiered cake complete with tiny sugar roses in the middle of a blizzard without power and still have it come out looking like perfection. She would make it look easy.
I spent a lot of time with her when I was a surly tween-ager and looked forward to anything she baked. There was one thing Nancy made that to this day I cannot successfully recreate. It is her famous Chocolate Orange Torte – a Pavlova type meringue crust made in a pie pan and loaded with orange pastry cream, topped with whipped cream and did I fail to mention chocolate everywhere?
Her meringue crust slices perfectly and lifts out of the pie pan with the requisite pastry cream and whipped cream topping intact, layered perfectly. When I serve it, the only thing that comes out of the pie pan is a drool of pastry cream and a slide of whipped cream – the meringue stays behind.
I figured perhaps that I should just embrace my failure and recreate the flavors in a different configuration. So I did. And it worked. I have to admit that in testing this recipe we gained about 5 pounds after eating about a dozen of these. Are we sick of them? Nope. I’d eat more right now if the meringue had stayed fresh for two weeks.
I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow.
Chocolate Orange Pavlova Bowls
You can make the orange pastry cream the day before and save it in the refrigerator. Cover with plastic wrap. The Pavlova bowls (meringues) can also be made ahead and stored in an airtight container (don’t refrigerate). You might have to re-crisp the meringues lightly before serving.
From the Scharffenberger Bittersweet Bar, I make the ground chocolate and curls ahead of time and store them in separate covered containers (don’t refrigerate the chocolate). The whipped cream is best made right before assembling the dessert.
Separate the eggs while they are cold, but whip the whites at room temperature. The yolks shouldn’t be icy cold when you make the pastry cream. Parchment is your best friend for making the meringue bowls.
One more little confession: I make an extra small-ish Pavlova that is deliberately a Pavlova-wreck so I have an excuse to eat it once it has cooled. If I’ve made the pastry cream in advance, I put a little on it with some chocolate just to make sure it all tastes just right. Happily, it usually does.
Makes about 10 (4 inch) desserts
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup of superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Orange Pastry Cream
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3 teaspoons orange zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- One 9.7 ounce Scharffenberger bittersweet or semisweet chocolate bar
Preheat oven to 300. Line two baking sheets with parchment
Separate eggs while cold. Bring egg whites to room temperature.
Place whites in stand mixer and add the cream of tartar and salt. Whip on medium-high speed until frothy. Now whip those suckers on high. When the whites start to turn fluffy white, add the sugar in a slow steady stream down the side of the bowl making sure it all gets incorporated as it whips.
Whip just until the whites are glossy. The peaks should stand tall.
Plop even sized pools of meringue on each baking sheet – no more than 5 to a sheet. Pile them up like pillows. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, swirl gently into a ring shape with high sides and a sunken middle – like slightly flat bowls.
If you are a piping whiz, by all means pipe those bowls and use whatever decorative tip makes you happy. Be sure to pipe from the center out so that your last circle is the rim of the bowl.
Place both sheets in the oven and bake 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets and turn the oven to 275. Leave in there for another 30-40 minutes. After 30 minutes, watch them carefully – open the oven door, rotate the baking sheets and as soon as they are barely colored, remove them. You might think they are still too spongy, but they will become crisper as they cool.
Be patient – how long they need to bake is dependent on the weather, your oven, the humidity in the house, the egg whites, and the meringue elves. I’ve encountered times where they finish baking right on time and other times where they take longer. Just remember, keep the temperature adjusted so they don’t go past pale-pale golden, yet get crisp on the outside and stay soft on the inside. Be brave. It will work.
And conversely, don’t leave them in the oven after you turn it off and their time it up – the low heat will continue to cook them and you will have very crispy slightly burned meringue bowls.
Let them cool completely before trying to remove them from the parchment. They will not come off when they are warm. When they are stone cold, peel the parchment from the bottom very carefully.
Notes: I make these a day in advance and store them in an airtight tin. Don’t pile them up or they will stick to one another. They could be slightly soggy by the next day so re-crisp them in the oven by preheating it to 200 degrees and popping them in. When the oven comes to temperature turn it off and leave them in there for about 5 minutes . Cool to room temperature before filling.
Orange Pastry Cream
Beat the yolks until thick and fluffy in a bowl that will eventually act as the top of a double-boiler. Add in the sugar, zests, and citrus juices. Cook in the double boiler (medium low simmer) until the mixture is thick and custard-like. It will take a while so bring a book. Or a snack. Stir constantly. It should be about 155-160 degrees when fully cooked, or very thick and custardy. Don’t overcook the custard or it will start to separate.
Once the mixture is cooked and thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier. Let the cream cool for about 5 minutes and then stir in the butter.
Place in a bowl with plastic wrap directly on the cream’s surface to avoid that pesky custard skin. Chill until very chilly. You can use an ice bath around the bowl to speed things up, but don’t freeze it!
Using that handy mixer again, bring the cream to a froth, add the sugar and vanilla. Beat until beautiful peaks are formed and it isn’t goopy anymore.
Open the bar of Scharffenberger and chop off a small piece to taste. Why? Just because you deserve it.
Chop off about four ounces and grate it, or break that into smaller chunky pieces for a food processor. Grind the chocolate in the food processor, using pulses, until it looks like coarse, ground chocolate.
For the decorative curls, using the remaining chunk from the bar, hold it in your hands for a short minute while you get out the veggie peeler. The heat from your hand will warm the chocolate slightly and make peeling curls easier. Using the thin edge of the bar, over parchment or a plate, start peeling long pieces of chocolate which should turn into nice fluffy curls as they fall. Make a pile of them for the tops of the desserts.
Make more than you need because there is just never enough chocolate.
- Plate each Pavlova bowl on separate dessert plates.
- Spoon in a thin layer of ground chocolate to cover the bottom.
- Spoon some Orange Pastry Cream on top of the ground chocolate, but don’t overdo it – just to cover.
- Spoon on a generous dollop of whipped cream in the center of the orange stuff, leaving a good ring of orange.
- Using a spoon (your hands will melt the chocolate) sprinkle some of the curls in the center of the cream.
Serve almost right away, but take a picture first and much later, post it on the Gluten Free Canteen Facebook page.
And then watch your guests swoon. They will love you for this.
And three cheers for my sister-in-law. She’s a keeper.