Before strawberry season is completely over, I wanted to share a new favorite dessert which I’ve made several times (at the behest of my family), ever since a pint of sweet little strawberries were included in my first CSA pick-up a few weeks ago…
This was my CSA farmers’ first summer providing strawberries in our share, thanks to a new plot of land they’re working that already had an established berry crop. You can probably tell from the pictures above that these are not the puffy, bland, monsters you normally find at the supermarket, but a smaller, sweeter, intensely flavorful variety that more closely resembles the frais de bois or wild strawberries that you find in Europe and the occasional farmer’s market. Honestly, they’re so good, you don’t have to do anything but rinse off a couple of bugs to enjoy them (Case in point: Most of the pints I’ve picked up with my share never made it home, having been devoured by Conor and myself on the car ride home.).
But…if you have the patience and willingness to put those berries into a confection, then this is the one: Strawberry Pavlova. A cake made up of a crunchy meringue base, topped with a well of thick whipped cream, and a crown of strawberries macerated with lemon juice and a bit of sugar. Behold! The perfect summer dessert.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that my family flipped for the dessert; three of them literally consumed a cake meant for at least eight people in a matter of minutes, and then demanded I make it again as soon as possible. Conor just nodded and chewed and stuck his thumb up while he ate about half the cake. I adapted my recipe from one by the clever Dutch cook and food writer Yvette van Boven. HERE is a version that ran in Bon Appetit magazine, which I recommend you follow but with a few tweaks: The few differences I make is I skip the frills of mixing fennel seeds with the egg whites and adding a tarragon garnish. Both are all fine and good but I think completely unnecessary and I believe my family enjoys the cake more without the herbal notes. Also, van Boven combines her whipped cream with marscarpone, which is does add a wonderful richness, but again, not necessary. The whole point of this dessert is the combination of textures and summer flavors—crunchy, chewy, creamy, sweet, tart— and showcasing the best strawberries you can find (and once the season is over, you can easily substitute blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, macerating them with the lemon juice and sugar will help bring out all the sweet juices).
This is also a perfect dessert for a party/BBQ because you can make the meringue and whipped cream ahead of time, pack separately from the berries, and then assemble the entire thing on the spot. So grab those end of the season berries and make this dessert pronto, and if you’re in a part of the country that is already onto the next berry crop, then substitute away! I might even try this with ripe Jersey peaches very soon.