I lay in the hot sun, soaking in the rays. My belly is full of hot dogs and potato salad, and I'm perfectly content just laying in the grass listening to my sister splashing in the water. This is summertime at its finest: no school to worry about, no summer jobs (yet), just pure carefree afternoons by the lake. Behind us our mother is preparing some kind of special surprise dessert, an exotic-sounding treat she discovered when she was about our age living in Australia for a year. "Pavlova." I roll the word around on my tongue and try to imagine what it might represent. It sounds velvety and rich, like how chocolate lava cake would taste if it was a word. But when we gather to the table (and remind my mom that kids have two stomachs, a dinner stomach and a dessert stomach, so she needn't worry about us being too full for dessert), what is placed in front of us looks more like a cloud. It tastes like one too. Crunchy, light meringue melds in our mouths with cool, fluffy whipped cream and the fresh strawberries on top really seal the deal with a punch of fruity flavor. This is summertime. This is perfect.
Pavlova-inspired treat made in honor of the Summer Solstice: elderflower saffron meringue, homemade dairy-free citrus curd, whipped saffron coconut cream, yellow rose petals, nectarines and peaches, and calendula petals. The flavors and textures in this dessert are AMAZING- the cool and barely-sweetened coconut saffron cream compliments the sugary crunchy meringue and the flower petals are a perfect pairing to fresh stone fruits. Every bite is a new experience bursting with summertime sweetness.
At first I made a big plated Pavlova to share with my guests at a special Summer Solstice party I held last night. I haven't been eating much sugar lately, though, so I found the large amount of meringue to be overwhelming. I re-designed the presentation today and liked it a lot better- more of an emphasis on fresh fruit, and just a little bit of sugary and crunchy meringue to accent the flavors rather than overwhelm them. You could make it either way.
Here are the recipes:
Ahead of time, place a little pinch of saffron in a dish with about 1 tsp. almond extract. Allow to soak for a couple of hours. Bring 3 egg whites to room temperature (reserve the egg yolks for the lemon curd!) Preheat oven to 275F
Whip the egg whites until fluffy but not dry, then gradually beat in 1 cup white sugar about a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Whip until glossy and firm. Add 1/3 tsp. cream of tartar and 1 Tbs. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs. powdered elderflower and gently whip in. Whip in the saffron mixture.
Pipe the meringue mixture onto a silicone baking mat or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. You can either do little "kisses" like I prefer, or spread a large circle of meringue to use as a pavlova base. (If you want it to be as big as the picture I posted, you'll need to triple the recipe.) Bake for 1 hour and then turn the oven off, letting the meringues cool inside it. (If you pull them out of the oven too fast they will shock and crack.) The meringues should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Zest and juice 4 citrus fruits (I used one orange and three lemons.)
Put a little water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine 5 egg yolks and 1 cup sugar in a bowl and whisk until light-colored and creamy. Measure 1/3 cup of your mixed citrus juice and add it and the grated zest to the egg mixture and whip until smooth. Place this mixture in a heat-proof bowl (metal works best) and place over the simmering water. Turn the water to low and whip the egg mixture until it starts to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon, anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup butter, a little piece at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding the next one. Note: I can't have dairy, so I used a mixture of dairy-free margarine and palm oil shortening. It works just fine! Once all of the butter is melted and mixed in well, transfer the contents to a clean bowl and place a film of plastic wrap over the surface of the mixture. Chill until cool and firm. Refrigerate and use within two weeks.
Saffron Coconut Cream:
Plan ahead: place a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight before beginning this recipe.
Place a hefty pinch of saffron in a small bowl with about 1 1/2 tsp. of almond extract. Allow to infuse for at least an hour.
Open the can of chilled coconut milk and skim the solid stuff off the top and into a bowl. Whip until soft peaks form, then add a little bit of powdered sugar to taste (I didn't use very much at all since I knew the meringues would be sweet.) Whip until it's a whipped cream consistency, then add the saffron mixture and whip again. Transfer to a pastry bag with a star-shaped tip.
*note: you could totally use whipping cream for this portion. It's easier to control and quite tasty, I'm just allergic to dairy so I use coconut instead!
For a traditional pavlova: transfer your large meringue sheet onto a cake plate or large platter. Spoon the lemon curd on top, decorate with the saffron cream, and add lots of sliced fruit of your choice.
For my version: Spoon some citrus curd onto a plate and surround it with peeled nectarine and peach slices. Add piped stars of the saffron coconut cream and decorate with rose petals and calendula. Add a meringue kiss to the middle of the lemon curd and enjoy!
I made a variety of other yellow treats for my solstice party. Here they are:
One for the Sun, One for the Moon:
Since this year's summer solstice also happened to coincide with the full moon, I designed a special cocktail to commemorate the evening. I froze spheres of mango juice and coconut water, then added elderflower vodka, elderflower syrup, fresh citrus juice, and sparkling water to this tasty summertime sipper.
Golden Beet Salad:
A delicious (and simple!) salad made with roasted yellow beets, an orange and juniper vinaigrette (which I whipped up with some infused olive oil I made ages ago, freshly-squeezed orange juice and zest, a little honey, a little dijon mustard, and some sea salt), roasted pine nuts, dandelion petals, and marigold petals. The marigold petals taste strong and spicy and are the perfect accompaniment to the sweet roast beets.
A slight alteration from traditional basmati rice. Fry half of an onion in butter until it is soft, then add 1 Tbs. turmeric powder, 1 Tbs. safflower petals, and 1 cup basmati rice. Mix well and then add a bay leaf and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat slightly and allow to cook for 17 minutes. When it's done cooking add a few pats of butter (I used non-dairy margarine). Serve hot and garnish with more safflower petals and gold leaf (optional.) This rice is earthy and slightly spicy, a great accompaniment to lamb! (Since my party was a potluck, we were lucky to have some delicious lamb burgers brought by one of the guests.)