The summer dessert of kings. Make the most of fresh cherries in the summer months or frozen ones in the winter.
Start by wiping out your bowl and whisk with a piece of kitchen paper damp with a little lemon juice or vinegar to remove any traces of grease. Preheat the oven to 120˚C. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks in a stand mixer or use electric hand beaters. You would work up a sweat doing pavlova by hand!
Meanwhile, take 1 tbsp of the caster sugar and grind it with your freeze dried cherries - I do it easily in a mortar and pestle but you can use a coffee grinder. Reserve for now.
With the stand mixer on medium speed, whisk in the caster sugar a spoonful at a time then add the reserved cherry powder and sugar. Continue to whisk on high until the sugar has fully dissolved into the egg whites. Stop occasionally to rub a little meringue between your fingers - if it is grainy, continue whisking another couple of minutes and check again.
When ready, add the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and use the whisk to mix them in. The meringue should be very stiff, thick and glossy at this point.
Fit a piping bag with a large open star nozzle (if not using my favourite Mrs Whippy nozzle) and scoop in the meringue. Pipe out 8 rosettes in a 2 by 4 arrangement. Leave half an inch of space between them to allow for expansion in the oven and make sure you pipe each 4-5 inches high as they will sink a little on cooking. Fill in any large gaps between the rosettes with leftover pav mixture.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until dried out to the touch. Allow the pavlova to cool fully in the oven - doing this the night before is handy just don't forget it's in there the next day!
Reserve 8 fresh cherries to garnish the pavlova later.
If using fresh cherries, de-stalk and stone them. Leave them whole, slice in half or chop as preferred - I personally halve them. Add the sugar and 1 tbsp of water and bring to the boil. Stirring constantly, cook at a simmer for 5-10 minutes until the fruit has slumped and softened (this is quicker using frozen cherries, and you don't need to thaw them first).
Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked cherries to a bowl and reduce the syrup in the saucepan by to a third of it's volume (you will have 1-2 tbsp left when it's ready). Add the vanilla and liqueur if using and pour over the fruit. Cover and chill until needed.
Place the pav gently on a serving plate, platter, slate or tray as preferred. It should slide off the parchment with little encouragement.
Reserve 1-2 tbsp of the cream, add the vanilla and whip to soft peaks. If you have gone too far and it's stiff, stir in the reserved cream (I always go too far with cream so if you are more reserved in your whipping, you may dispense with this step!).
Fit a piping bag with the same (but cleaned out) nozzle as you used before and pipe rosettes on top of the pavlova. Spoon over a little of the chilled cherry compote and top with a fresh cherry. Any compote left over should be popped in a bowl for your loved ones to spoon into their bowls as they eat.
You can make the pavlova and compote a day ahead. Once assembled, the pavlova should be kept in the fridge and used within 2 days. You can portion it up (or leave it whole) and freeze it successfully too but leave off the fresh cherries for garnish until ready to serve. Thaw in the fridge for at least 4 hours and again, using within 48 hours of thawing.