Time to celebrate with a luscious Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake, whether it's a birthday, anniversary, or Mother's Day. This stunning dessert layers sweet meringue with tart rhubarb curd, strawberries, and cream. (Skip to recipe.)
My little blog is five years old today! I can't believe I've been blogging that long!
Five years ago on May 6, I set up a blog (with the help of my much more tech-savvy friend), then opened up the dashboard and started typing. I didn't know where I was heading with it, and had no long term goal. I just wanted to write down some of my recipes. That first post is pretty bad and I cringe when I look at the photos - though that recipe for Irish Cheese Toasties is still a quick and easy favourite around here.
I have sure learned a lot about blogging since that first sketchy post, and yet I feel like I'm just comfortably starting on the path, near the base of the mountain, and when I shield my eyes and look way up at the pinnacle, I still have sooo far to go and SO MUCH MORE to learn . . . about blogging, photography, social media, and all that techie stuff that is way beyond my ken.
So, I need to tell myself to just keep looking a little way ahead and take one tiny step at a time, and instead concentrate on the richness that my blog has brought into my life. It's given me a creative outlet, something I look forward to doing. It's channeled my energies. All those thoughts I have buzzing around in my head about food, and recipes, and flavour combinations now have a place to go.
Plus, I have a legitimate excuse for avoiding housework (legitimate to me, anyway)!
Most importantly, I wouldn't have this place to hang out and this feeling of connection to you readers if I hadn't started to type those first words and put myself out there. It's knowing that there are people listening that makes me want to try harder, tweak those words a little more, and double, triple, quadruple check recipes to make sure they turn out consistently. I'm finding I LOVE the recipe development part of blogging, and I love the writing . . . and I'm learning the photography. Getting better at all of it has become my passion.
The last five years would have gone by anyway, so I'm so thrilled I have this blog as a kind of record of my days - mostly my cooking days, but life gets all twined up with the cooking, and for me, one is tethered to the other (not just for the obvious reason of needing nourishment to live). You know how smells or snippets of music can instantly transport you back to certain times or places in your past? Food does that for me, too.
In the past five years, I've:
Lost my father, just weeks after I started blogging. My heart still aches. Gone on a trip to San Francisco, two trips to Europe and two trips to Mexico, lost one of my best friends to cancer, survived three children in university at the same time, seen my baby finish high school and head off an a German exchange, had our fourth German exchange student live with us for three months, had a daughter get married and sadly seen that marriage end almost before it started, won some cooking contests (first place with my Coco-Lassies bars and second place with my Pizza-ghetti Pie, had my husband diagnosed with Lyme Disease, it's an ongoing battle (will post about that some time), been flown to Vancouver to audition for Recipe to Riches and got chosen as a finalist, made it to the auditions for Master Chef Canada (but didn't get chosen to compete for either of those shows - loved the experience anyway), started writing a food column for our local paper, had to totally reinvent the way I cook due to husband and kids' numerous food allergies, continued to work part time as a German Kindergarten teacher and substitute teacher, and attempted some semblance of keeping up my house and garden (that one's a losing battle).
And through it all, my blog has kept me sane and grounded. I can't believe I've stuck with it and that I have no desire to stop any time soon. (If the Mess Monster in my basement threatens to infiltrate into the main floor, I may have to take a short leave to have it out with him, but as for now I'm able to keep him cowering down there).
So it is time to celebrate!
Pavlova is a special dessert, said to originate in New Zealand and Australia and named in honour of the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Like a ballerina, a pavlova is beautiful, and ethereal, and sweetly, divinely, delicious. The fact that it should be served within a short time after assembling makes it all the more special - delicate and fleeting, like spring. This is a dessert to remember.
I've made this light and lovely Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake to share with you. Too bad I can't pass you a piece - it is delicious. And it is a stunning cake to celebrate spring. Or a birthday. Or an anniversary. Or Mother's Day.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: And here I go, after saying I make sure to retest recipes before posting, this is the first time I've made this cake. I adapted the recipe from a lemon pavlova (which I've made often, so I know it works) and baked the meringue as separate thin layers instead of one thick one. I changed the lemon curd to rhubarb, since I was itching to eat some, and ours in the garden isn't quite big enough yet (had to dig out my freezer stash).
You can make the meringues and the rhubarb curd several days ahead, then whip the cream and assemble the cake about an hour before serving time. Like a regular pavlovla, this cake is best eaten shortly after it's been assembled, but after it's had a short time to mellow. Less than an hour and the meringue layers haven't softened enough to cut easily, and more than about two hours and the cake starts getting quite soft (though still delicious), so you have a window of time where the cake is at its divine best.
If your rhubarb isn't naturally pink, you can tint the curd with a bit of beet juice, like I did. I also increased the recipe slightly to make enough for five layers (for the 5 year celebration, of course), but four layers, as in the recipe below, would be just right - just as pretty, and easier to manage.
To make the cake dairy free, replace the whipped cream with your favourite non-dairy whipped topping (or a lesser amount of whipped coconut cream).
For the meringue layers:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup (200gms) sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca starch
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
For the Rhubarb Curd:
- about 2 cups (250gms) fresh or frozen rhubarb
- grated zest of one lemon
- juice of l lemon (about 2½ tablespoons)
- ⅓ cup (75gms) butter
- ⅓ cup (75gms) sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- a piece if raw beet for pink colour, or pink food colouring (optional)
To assemble the cake:
- 1¼ lbs (550 gms) of strawberries (about 4 cups sliced, plus a few extras for garnish)
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- edible flowers or mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Make the meringue layers. They can be made up to a few days ahead and stored in a large airtight container, still stuck to their parchment paper liners as protection between the layers. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Draw four 8-inch (20cm) circles onto parchment paper. Use a plate, bowl, or lid that is 8 inches in diameter. Trim the paper so it can fit into cookie sheets and invert it onto the sheets so the drawn circles are underneath, but you can still see them through the paper. Make sure to prepare the cookie sheets before you do the meringue.
Whip the egg whites and salt to soft peaks. Gradually add in the sugar, one tablespoon at time. Beat until very stiff and shiny. This will take at least 10 to 12 minutes. Beat in the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla.
Divide the meringue between the four circles. Use a spatula to spread it evenly to the circle outlines, and smooth out the tops to make four large disks.
Put in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 275°F. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven and don't open the door. Leave the meringues in the oven until it is cold, or overnight. You can also store the meringues, still attached to the paper - carefully trim the paper closer to the meringues for ease of storing - in a large airtight container for several days.
Make the Rhubarb Curd. Slice the rhubarb into ½ inch (1cm) pieces. Cook it until it is soft and totally broken apart. If using fresh rhubarb, add a tablespoon of water to start, if using frozen, no need for water. Keep cooking it until enough liquid evaporates that it is like a thick pudding. Measure out ¾ cup (180ml) of cooked rhubarb puree - use any leftover puree for another use (stir into yogurt, top ice cream). Let cool to lukewarm.
In a small saucepan, combine the ¾ cup cooked rhubarb puree with the lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, and sugar. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolk.
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened to a custard. Let cool.
If desired, you can tint the curd with a little bit of beet juice - about ½ teaspoon. Grate raw beet on the finest holes of a box grater until you have about a tablespoon of pulp. Press the pulp through a fine-meshed sieve, catching the juice in a cup. Use a small amount of this juice to stir into the rhubarb curd until it is the desired shade of pink. Or use food colouring to tint the curd.
Chill the curd until cold, several hours or overnight.
Assemble the cake: Whip the cream softly with the 2 teaspoons of sugar. Slice the strawberries.
Carefully peel the parchment paper off a meringue disk, and lay it onto a cake plate. Plop about ½ cup of the rhubarb curd onto this base and spread it carefully almost to the edges. Arrange a single layer of sliced strawberries on top of the curd, placing a ring of strawberry slices with their tips facing outward around the outside edge and filling in the middle with the smaller, irregular slices. Spread with about one quarter of the whipped cream.
Place another meringue disk on top, and repeat the layers, to have three layers of filling. Top the last meringue disk with the last quarter of whipped cream and decorate with strawberries, either halved or whole, and edible flowers if desired. You may not use all of the rhubarb curd. Use any leftover curd to stir into yogurt, top pancakes or ice cream with it.
Let the cake sit about an hour to slightly soften the meringue layers enough to easily cut through them, then serve. Don't let it sit longer than about 2 hours, or it will get too soft and drippy.
Note: To make a regular Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova: Spread the meringue thickly onto one 8 inch (20cm) circle of parchment paper, it will be several inches high - form it with a spatula to have straight sides and a slight indentation in the top to hold the filling. Bake it for the same amount of time (the inside will be soft, moist, and marshmallowy) and at the same temperature as above. When cool, top the pavlova with all the rhubarb curd and then spread all the whip cream on top. Decorate with fruit, edible flowers, or just leave plain.
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