For the past month, I've been jealously watching the specialty citrus fruits on the savory side of the kitchen give way to pea shoots, favas, fiddleheads and ramps. It takes a little while longer for spring to come to the pastry kitchen, and those of us who live on the sweeter side tend to be sick to death of citrus, nuts, and hardy wintered apples and pears by the time the snow is melted. In some kitchens, we are allowed to turn to tropical imports like pineapple, mango, and kiwi to keep our spirits up, but it all depends on the cuisine.
For me, spring doesn't truly feel like it's arrived in the pastry kitchen until rhubarb makes an appearance. It's prohibitively expensive on the East Coast for the first month or so of its availability, with the biggest, pinkest specimens coming from the Pacific Northwest. Seeing gorgeous pink desserts showing up on the menus of West Coast restaurants from afar is absolute torture. And when you do get your grubby little pastry mitts on a case, there is always the question of what flavors you want to play with.
Strawberries don't come into season until late spring, and the combination is so played out that I've never actually put strawberry and rhubarb together in a restaurant dessert. I'm a big fan of what I consider to be a kind of farm flavor profile, combining tart rhubarb with sour buttermilk and sweet floral honey. Simple vanilla beans also complement rhubarb perfectly, especially in jam. And any lingering citrus makes a refreshing match for earthy rhubarb.
Lemon, orange, and even kumquat all bring a perky brightness to the pink stalk, but lime also brings a lovely color contrast. What says spring more than pink and green?
I also believe that a spring dessert, especially one with rhubarb, should be light. People have been eating heavy things all winter long, so I steer clear of cheesecakes and thick custards. What could be lighter than meringue?
Pavlovas are a traditional Australian/New Zealand dessert. A shell of crisp, airy meringue encases a pillowy marshmallow center. They are classically served with sour passion fruit or kiwi to offset the sweetness of meringue. Here, pretty pink rhubarb with tart, buttery lime curd makes an excellent substitution and a colorful spring dessert. Making individual servings is a cute way to present just about anything, and pavlovas are no exception.
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About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.