Wednesday, March 25

Forbidden Love {Vanilla Bean Pavlova with Strawberries & Cream}

"Some of the greatest stories ever told were never meant to be told at all . . . "

Stop me if you've heard this one. . .

Long ago there was a young girl named Xanat.  She lived with her parents on the sugar-sandy beaches of what is now eastern Mexico.  She played in the warm Mexican sunshine and ran free with childish abandon amongst the flowers & trees of the nearby forest.  She would frequently come home with an orchid, her favorite, tucked behind her ear.  She was a pearl in her mother's eye; a thorn in her father's side.

As she grew older her beauty blossomed like the flowers of the forest.  Fine features, long hair, soft as silk and black as the rarest pearl in the sea, and eyes so dark you became lost just staring into them.  But her most beguiling feature could not be seen, but rather felt.  For from within she radiated a sense of headstrong independence that both terrified and captivated all those around her.  Naturally, she took after her father.

She fascinated the young men of the village and soon they began vying for her attention.  One look in her eternal eyes and they were just as lost as a leaf floating on the vast, rolling waves of the ocean.  There were many suitors, but one young man won her heart and stole her soul.  Together they approached her father to ask for his blessing on their marriage.

Her father became enraged at their request.  "My daughter has hair of ebony, skin of gold, and eyes of the darkest roasted cacao!" he thundered.   "She will never marry a town peasant!  I forbid her to marry any mortal.  She is meant for a god!"

The young man cowered beneath his rage, but Xanat stood tall and faced her father with a stubbornness just as fierce.  "I will marry whom I will."  She proclaimed, anger rising like the swell of the sea just before a hurricane.

She and her beloved left the town that evening, stealing west into the dense forest in which she had played as a child.  Her father, outraged and embarrassed by his daughter's rebellion, sent for his hunters and ordered them to track down the lovers, and kill them.

The two traveled for days, deeper and deeper into the forest, but the hunters were stealthy.  They found the lovers sleeping in the soft grass of a small clearing.  As they slept, entwined in each others arms, the hunters swiftly & cleanly beheaded them both.  But, what neither the hunters nor the angry father realized was that the ivory orchid from behind Xanat's ear fell to the ground between the two lovers and was quickly covered with blood.  And from that very spot, nourished by the blood of forbidden love, the first vanilla orchid grew, and soon the whole clearing was filled with these amazing plants.  Strong vines, leathery leaves, delicate flowers giving birth to the most intoxicating spice known to man.  Yet no one would discover them for years upon years.  And when they did, the story of Xanat and her beloved was just a distant memory.  A myth, fading and changing like the whispers of a dream.  It's a story that old women would tell the young to keep them in line.

At least that's the story my grandmother told me once, ages ago, when I sat in her kitchen, wide-eyed and innocent, absorbing every word she spoke as she cut the vanilla pod in half and deftly scraped out its contents.  "And that" she said with an air of authority, "is where vanilla comes from."  But you know how grandmothers tend to over-exaggerate. . .

In any case, that story haunted me through the decades, living in the dark recesses of my mind. You know, I've always been a vanilla girl.  Give me a choice between chocolate and vanilla ice cream and vanilla wins hands down.  I don't know why vanilla has come to represent the plain and ordinary.  It seems to me that vanilla is anything but.  Vanilla is rich, heady, luxurious, titillating, exotic, intoxicating, soft as silk and deceptively powerful, headstrong like Xanat herself.  There's a reason it's included in some of the world's most treasured perfumes.

Yes, I could have written about a Anna Pavlova, the prima ballerina after whom this dessert is named.  But you've all heard that story before.  And when I'm craving vanilla I want something pure, raw and unadulterated.  Like young, forbidden love.  That's when I make this Pavlova.  It's vanilla through and through.  I love the smell of my hands after scraping the beans from the pod.  I love seeing the black flecks in the white Pavlova.  I love adding the vanilla to the purest white cream and watching my whisk trace mahogany trails through it.  This dessert is completely self-indulgent and a feast for all the senses.  And it makes me think of my grandmother and of the story she told so long ago that perhaps should have never been told at all.  And now you've heard it, too.

Vanilla Bean Pavlova with Strawberries & Cream

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 tsp salt
half a vanilla pod, scraped
1 cup fine sugar
1/2 tsp white vinegar

1 pint whipping cream
1 Tbsp confectioner's sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
sliced strawberries

Preheat the over to 350 F (175 C) and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Scrape the beans from the vanilla pod and mix with the sugar.  Set aside.

Whip the egg whites, cream of tarter and salt until soft peaks form.  With the mixer running, add in the sugar slowly, one spoonful at a time until all the sugar has been incorporated.  Continue beating until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy.  Fold in the vinegar.

Dollop the entire mixture onto the parchment-lined sheet pan and smooth into a circular shape.

Place in the preheated oven and immediately turn the heat to 300 F (150 C).  Bake for an hour and 15 minutes, until firm and hollow.  Turn the oven off and crack the door.  Allow the Pavlova to cool in the oven for at least 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Meanwhile, whip the cream with the vanilla and confectioner's sugar until soft peaks form.

The Pavlova will sink as it cools.  When completely cool, fill the center with whipped cream and garnish with strawberries.


  1. Beautiful! The words and photos are enthralling!

    1. Hi Karen! So wonderful to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words! I hope that you & your family are well!