Brown Sugar Pavlova: Citrus season is here and my head's in the clouds

Brown Sugar Pavlova with White Chocolate Whipped Cream, Pomegranate, Citrus, and Pistachio

Brown Sugar Pavlova with White Chocolate Whipped Cream, Pomegranate, Citrus, and Pistachio

Better late than never, it’s finally citrus season.  Here in Southwestern Ontario, we typically start to see perfect tart grapefruits, teeny tiny little key limes, and at least half a dozen varieties of oranges in mid-December, early-January but this year Mother Nature had other plans.  I like to think that she knew we here in Toronto would need a good old pick me up after that dreary, sunless January we had and what better than bright, vitamin-rich citrus!

Once citrus season hits, my cooking and baking tends to change in order to incorporate as much of those beautiful southern fruits as possible.  Halibut is cooked en papillote with tarragon and grapefruit, carrot cakes are perfumed with orange zest while candied Cara Cara slices sit pretty on top, and my all-time favourite dessert Pavlova gets an extra little something with the addition of citrus supremes.

Pavlova is a dessert that I can 100% get behind.  No matter how big the preceding dinner, there is always room on my plate for this lighter-than-air beauty.  Now, I'm not saying that it is a healthy dessert - it is a sugary meringue draped in rich, chocolatey whipped cream after all - but it does give you that sweet hit you're looking for at the end of a meal without leaving you feeling Violet Beauregarde-esque.

This simple and light Australian classic made a little special with the addition of brown sugar, white chocolate, fruit, and nuts is perfect to prepare a day or two ahead and assemble just before serving.

Brown Sugar Pavlova with White Chocolate Cream, Pomegranate, Citrus, and Pistachios

Serves 4 - 6

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract

White Chocolate Whipped Cream
½ cup white chocolate chips
1 cup 35% whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

2 oranges (whatever variety looks the tastiest at your market today), wedged into supremes
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup chopped pistachios

For the meringue, preheat your oven to 300F.

In a freshly cleaned bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a freshly cleaned whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and a small pinch of salt on full speed until soft peaks form.  With the mixer running, carefully and very gradually sprinkle in the brown sugar and continue to whip the meringue until glossy and stiff peaks form.  Once whipped, remove the bowl from the mixer and evenly sift the cornstarch on top of the meringue.  Then, using your fingers, flick the vinegar and vanilla over the top and gently fold it all together.

Line a baking sheet with fresh parchment paper and form the meringue into an 8-9” circle.  It should be about 2 ½” tall.  

Pop into the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 250F.

Without opening the oven door, bake for 1 hour then turn off the oven and allow the oven and meringue to cool completely before removing it.  If I’m preparing the meringue in the evening, I’ll usually just leave it in the oven overnight to cool.  When you remove the cooled meringue from the oven, the top of might have fallen a bit but that’s no reason to panic.  It just gives you more room for white chocolate whipped cream, pomegranate, citrus, and pistachios!

For the white chocolate whipped cream, place the chocolate chips in a medium heat proof bowl and set aside.  Over medium heat, bring the whipping cream to a simmer then pour over the white chocolate and allow it to sit for about a minute.   Add the vanilla and salt and whisk into the mixture.  Set aside for another 15 minutes then, using your whisk, stir the cream until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap, being sure to press the plastic down onto the surface of the mixture and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

To assemble the pavlova, whip the white chocolate cream until stiff peaks form.  Place your meringue on a serving dish and generously top with the white chocolate whipped cream.  Scatter the citrus supremes, pomegranate seeds, and pistachios all over the top of the pavlova, step back, and marvel at one heck of a beautiful dessert.