There's a Seat for Everybody at This Table

There's a Seat for Everybody at This Table
Photo by John Anderson

Pavlova Cake

Gluten-free, dairy-free

The Pavlova cake always makes me think of my childhood friend Devorah Herbert. Her father was from New Zealand, where Pavlova cake is essentially the national dessert, invented there during the 1920s in honor of Russian dancer Anna Pavlova's visit to that island. Pavlova cake made regular appearances on the Herbert table around holidays and birthdays, with much attendant excitement from the entire family.

Pavlova cake is typically topped with whipped cream and berries, but I prefer to make it with lemon curd, which pairs delightfully with the candy-like meringue. Served with berries or some other fruit, Pavlova cake always seems special to me. The cake is completely gluten-free and if one were to substitute margarine for the butter in the lemon curd (or not use the lemon curd at all), it can also be dairy free. – Rachel Feit


2½ cups sugar

8 room temperature egg whites

¼ cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Parchment paper

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

2) Mix the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla together and let stand. 

3) In a large mixer beat together the sugar and egg whites until soft peaks form. 

4) Add the cornstarch mixture to egg whites and sugar and continue to mix for another 5 minutes until the batter is very still and has glossy peaks.  

5) Place the parchment paper on a cookie sheet that is at least 10x15 inches. 

6) Using a plastic spatula, spread the meringue batter into a 9-inch round on top of the parchment, centered on the cookie sheet.  7) Lower the oven temperature to 215°F and bake the meringue for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

8) Turn off the oven and let it cool inside for another 3 hours.

9) When ready to serve, peel the parchment from the bottom of the cake and place on a serving plate. Top with lemon curd and fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Lemon curd

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

Zest of 1-2 lemons

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups water

3 beaten egg yolks

½ cup lemon juice

1) Mix the sugar, salt, zest, and cornstarch in a sauce pan, and heat on medium heat. 

2) Add the water and stir until smooth and the mixture begins to thicken (about 10 minutes). 

3) Pour a few tablespoons of the hot mixture over the egg yolks and stir immediately to temper them. Then pour the egg yolks mixed back into the rest of the sugar-water-cornstarch mixture. 

4) Turn heat down to low, and stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken like custard (about 5-10 minutes). It will stick to the back of a wooden spoon. 

5) Turn off heat and stir in the lemon juice. Then whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time. 

6) Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and let cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 

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