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Black Forest Black Swan (aka Chocolate Pavlova with Cherries)

When the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s, a dessert was created in her honor. Looking a bit like a ballerina’s tutu, a pavlova is simply a giant meringue that is usually topped with fruit and whipped cream.

I added cocoa to the meringue and topped it with whipped cream. Then, I gilded it with black cherry compote and drizzled it with dark chocolate. This fairy tale of a cake is decadent yet light…kind of like a ballerina!

There are several parts to this dessert but they’re simple. You just need some patience. And if you don’t have patience, then you’ll find a few substitutions at the end of the recipe. However you make it, your pavlova will be delicious.

The pavlova serves 8. Assemble the pavlova right before serving; otherwise, it can become mushy rather quickly.

Make the chocolate meringue:

4 egg whites at room temperature

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup sugar

2-1/2 TBS cocoa powder

2 tsp cornstarch

½ tsp white vinegar

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

On a large sheet pan, place a piece of parchment paper. Place a 9-inch plate in the center of the paper and using a pencil, trace around the plate. Remove the plate. Flip the piece of parchment paper over (you want the pencil mark touching the pan not the pavlova). Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add the egg whites and salt. Beat for five minutes on high speed until stiff peaks are formed. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and slowly add the sugar. Beat for 2 or 3 minutes or until the egg whites are glossy. Sift the cocoa powder and cornstarch together and add to the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, fold them in gently to prevent the cocoa powder from flying everywhere. Add the vinegar and vanilla to the egg whites, and then beat on low speed for one more minute.

Glossy stiff peaks.

Carefully pour the meringue mixture into the center of the circle on the parchment paper. Using the spatula, spread the meringue evenly to the edges of the circle. Create a slight depression in the center of the meringue.

Place the meringue in the oven for 1-1/2 hours. Do not open the oven door while it’s baking. After it’s finished baking, turn the heat off and keep the oven closed for 2-1/2 hours or until the meringue is completely cool.

Baked meringue.

Make the black cherry compote:

1-16 oz bag of frozen pitted black cherries (no need to defrost)

Pinch of salt

2 TBS brown sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp cornstarch

Add the cherries, salt, brown sugar, and lemon juice to a large skillet and mix well. Cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. As the compote cooks, break up some of the cherries against the side of the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Mix the cornstarch with a small amount of cold water. Stir into the compote and cook for one minute to thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Make the whipped cream just before assembling the pavlova:

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 TBS confectioner’s sugar, sifted

To make whipping the cream easier, place the beaters and a mixing bowl in the refrigerator 10 minutes before preparation.

Pour the heavy cream into the bowl. Turn the mixer on low and beat the cream. Gradually increase the speed until the cream has soft peaks. Add the sugar and beat the cream until it has stiff peaks.

Assemble the pavlova:

¼ cup chopped semi sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

Place the chocolate into a small pan and heat on low. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat.

Place the chocolate meringue on a serving tray or plate. Spread the whipped cream in the depression of the meringue. Spoon the cherries in the center of the whipped cream. If there is any cherry sauce, drizzle it over the pavlova. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the pavlova. Serve immediately.

Don’t Freak Out!

1) The meringue should be dry on the outside (there will be some cracking, do don't despair) and soft and marshmallow-like on the inside. If the meringue doesn’t rise well or you open the oven before it cools completely and it falls, it can still be used. Just break the meringue into pieces. Layer dessert glasses with the meringue pieces, cherries, and whipped cream.

Sad meringue that fell in the oven. Why did it fall? I tried adding extra egg whites OR the cats were chasing each other through the kitchen while it was in the oven OR the meringue gods were angry with me OR maybe it happened just to show you that it happens to the best of us. I simply scraped the meringue--which tasted delicious by the way--from the paper and put it into a freezer bag and then the freezer. I'll use it later for another dessert like trifle or ice cream.

2) Make it simple. Make the meringue and layer it with drained canned cherries (I recommend the kind in juice rather than syrup), prepared whipped cream, and bottled chocolate sauce. You can also use cherry preserves instead of making the compote—just thin out the preserves with a little bit of water.

3) If you have any leftover pavlova, it’s not going to hold its shape well. However, the consistency will be almost like an English trifle and still tasty. As long as you cover it well and refrigerate it, you can eat it the next day.

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