The most brilliant pastry chefs create desserts with unexpected contrasts: warm and cold, sweet and sour, sweet and salty, even sweet and spicy. Johnny Iuzzini of Manhattan's Jean Georges, for instance, roasts sweet apricots and honey with fiery Thai chiles for an Asian-inflected version of the Pavlova, the Australian classic. Chamomile whipped cream and crunchy, minty meringue cool things down deliciously.
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1/2 cup superfine sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup large mint leaves
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
12 apricots (see Note)
2/3 cup honey
1 Thai chile or serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
2 chamomile tea bags
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 450°, then turn it off. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper. Spread the superfine sugar on a small plate. In a medium bowl, whisk 2 of the egg whites until very frothy. Using a pastry brush, brush a mint leaf with some of the egg white, then dredge it in the superfine sugar. Repeat with the remaining mint leaves. Transfer the sugared mint leaves to the baking sheet. Put the mint leaves in the oven and let them dry out for about 40 minutes; the leaves should not color, but they should be brittle-dry. Let cool, then transfer the mint leaves to a food processor and grind to a powder.
Transfer 3 tablespoons of the mint powder to a medium bowl and stir in the granulated sugar. Reserve the remaining mint powder in a small bowl to use for sprinkling.
Preheat the oven to 250° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 2 egg whites at medium speed until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat the whites until soft peaks form. Beat in the mint sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Sift 3/4 cup of the confectioners' sugar over the meringue, then fold it in with a rubber spatula. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the meringue onto a baking sheet and spread it into a 4-inch oval a scant 1/3 inch thick. Repeat to form 9 more meringues. Bake the meringues for about 12 minutes, or until they are firm and dry. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let the meringues cool in the oven for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch the apricots for 10 seconds, them immediately transfer them to the ice water to cool. Peel the apricots, then halve and pit them.
In a small roasting pan, toss the apricots with the honey and chile. Roast the apricots for about 10 minutes, or until they are soft but not mushy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apricots to a plate to cool. Whisk the butter and water into the honey in the roasting pan, then strain the sauce into a small bowl. Stir in the vanilla.
In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the cream until bubbles appear around the edge. Remove the pan from the heat, add the tea bags and let steep until cool. Discard the tea bags and chill the cream. Transfer the chamomile cream to a medium bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cream and 1 tablespoon of confectioners' sugar and beat with an electric mixer until firm.
Place 1 meringue on each of 4 plates. Top the meringues with a dollop of the chamomile whipped cream and 3 apricot halves. Top the apricots with another meringue, more whipped cream and 3 more apricot halves. (You will have 2 extra meringues in case of breakage.) Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the honey sauce all around the meringues, sprinkle with the remaining mint powder and serve at once.
The meringues can be stored in an airtight container overnight. The apricots and honey sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
You can also use frozen unsweetened apricot halves for this recipe. They're available at most supermarkets.
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