Last week we attended a Costa Rican-themed dinner party at some friends’ house.  They had just returned from a month in Costa Rica, for a tropical medicine rotation – how fun!  The dinner party was really cool.  We had fabulous pina coladas (of course!), and the main course consisted of empanadas, for which we hand-rolled our own dough made of masa, filled, and sealed them.  They were delicious and I loved the interactive feel of the whole meal.  Everything was delicious.  

I had offered to bring dessert and since I knew the meal was tropical in nature, I wanted the dessert to reflect that as well.  I had a few different ideas but settled on these pavlovas.  Now I have seen pavlovas many times before, but I’ve never really seriously considered making them.  I’m just not much of a fan of meringue – I love the way it looks, but I don’t think it tastes very good.  Still, these just seemed like the perfect dessert to bring and I thought it would be okay to sacrifice a little taste for a pretty presentation and individual dessert.  Well, these really surprised me by being a fantastic dessert!  The meringue actually tasted very good and it had a nice chewy texture that complemented the whipped cream and fresh fruit beautifully.  My friends expressed similar sentiments – never fans of meringue before, but they definitely liked this.  These made for a wonderfully light and tasty summer dessert.  

I do have a few notes regarding the recipe itself. First of all, it makes quite a bit more of each the components than the recipe suggests.  Supposedly this yields 12 servings, but I had plenty of leftover meringue, leftover whipped cream (even though I made less than the original quantity) and leftover fruit mixture, which made a fantastic breakfast and lunch the following day.  Second, I needed nearly twice the number of egg whites (7 as opposed to 4) they suggested to achieve the volume required for the recipe.  Also, shaping the meringue nests takes some time because the meringue likes to stick to the spoon.  In the end though, I don’t think the shape of the nest is terribly important, since the whipped cream and fruit will be overflowing the nest regardless.  Enjoy!

Tropical Fruit Pavlovas
For the meringue nests:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons large egg whites (about 7-8), at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup (7 oz.) sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

For the fruit mixture:
2 large ripe mangoes (about 2 lbs.), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 kiwis, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-moon slices about 3/8-inch thick
1/2 large pineapple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 tbsp. sugar

For the whipped cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

For make the meringue nests, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-low speed until they are opaque and frothy, about 30 seconds.  Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the egg whites until they are white, thick, voluminous, and the consistency of shaving cream, about 90 seconds.  Slowly  sprinkle in 1/2 cup of the sugar and then the vanilla extract.  Continue to mix until incorporated, about 60 seconds.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar by hand, just until incorporated.

Using a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup and a soup spoon, place 6 heaping 1/4-cup scoops of meringue about 1-inch apart on each sheet.  Gently press the back of the spoon into the center of the mounds to create hollows.  Each meringue should be about 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter.  

Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the meringues have smooth, dry, and firm exteriors.   Turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for several hours.  Once cool, store in an airtight container until ready to use (they will keep for a couple of weeks).

For the fruit mixture, combine the prepared fruit in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle with the sugar.  Gently stir to combine with a rubber spatula, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until the fruit begins to exude its juices, about 30 minutes.

To make the whipped cream, just before serving, beat the cream in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds.  Continue increasing the speed as the cream thickens, until it is smooth, thick and nearly doubled in volume.  Beat until soft peaks form.  

To assemble the pavlovas, place a meringue nest on a dessert plate.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream and some of the fruit mixture.  Serve immediately. 

Source: adapted from Baking Illustrated