Friday, November 8, 2013

Truly Sugar- Free Pavlova

Pavlova is basically egg whites and sugar.  Lots of sugar.  Scientifically speaking (because I love the chemistry of cooking), sugar has an important role in the making of meringue and pavlova.  It provides a glossy sheen, and, more importantly, gives strength and stability to the whipped egg whites.

Since I believe egg whites to be quite healthy -- and sugar, not so much -- I wanted to see if there was a way to make meringues or pavlova without the sugar.  I researched several "sugar free" recipes.  They all use sugar substitutes that I don't keep on hand.  I tried one recipe I found that used honey.  I have no idea how the inventor of that recipe had any success, because honey and whipped egg whites are not really friends.  What I ended up with was a sloppy, flat, sweet mess.  Of course, Superman still ate it.  ;)

My next question:  what if I made the entire thing without any sweetener at all?  I mean, I'm just going to cover it with fruit and coconut cream anyhow.

The experiment began...

First, I beat four room-temperature egg whites to soft peaks.  I added 1/4 t. cream of tartar, and continued to beat while I poured in 1/2 t. vanilla and 1/2 t. lemon juice.  Once the egg whites arrived at stiff peaks, I stopped.   I gently scraped the mixture out onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Nice height!

Carefully spreading it out.

Ready for the oven.

Next, I slipped it into the oven at the lowest temperature possible.  For my oven, that was 180° F.  I gently shut the oven door, and tried to forget about my experiment for four hours.  (It didn't work.  I couldn't forget.  But I was really good and didn't open the oven to peek.  I do admit to turning on the oven light and staring through the oven door window, though.)

After four hours, I turned off the oven, wedged the oven door open with a wooden spoon, and walked away while the experiment cooled slowly.

This is what it looked like:
A little deflated.

And it obviously wept a little.

Two observations:

1.  Martha Stewart suggests heating the oven to 300°, then reducing to 250° once you put the pavlova in.  I can see how starting at a higher temperature might set the outside, perhaps reducing the likelihood that your pavlova will weep.

2.  Without sugar, you will not be able to maintain the original loft of the whipped egg whites.  Also, having a nice tappable, hollow-sounding exterior will not be possible.  This is just the chemistry, folks.  Egg whites, alas, have their limitations.

But the real question is, HOW DID IT TASTE?

Well, all by itself, it was slightly salty, and it was sticky -- like cotton candy or marshmallows, but without sweetness.  But I topped it with ripe kiwi and drizzled coconut milk with a little squirt of agave.  That provided plenty of sweetness, but the texture was still a bit deflated and gets-stuck-in-your-teeth.

So there you have it.  Is it possible to make truly sugar-free pavlova?  The answer is a qualified "sort of."  While I enjoyed my creation, it was an awful lot of time investment for a serving or two of not-really-pavlova.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Conclusion of the Experiment.

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