There’s nothing quite like the simple joy of hosting a backyard summer gathering. With the table set with relaxed linens and timeless dinnerware, the playlist queued, and all the details accounted for, there comes the most important element: the menu. In a quest for the best summer recipes for a crowd, Jenni Kayne enlisted my help to create a menu for easy-going gatherings.

Pavlova is one of my all-time favorite desserts, it’s mouth-watering and can be made a day or two ahead. I infuse the whipped cream with a seasonal herb, lemon verbena, that adds a zinginess to the cream. Piled with fresh berries, it’s a beautiful, summer dessert.


  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cup superfine sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp white-wine vinegar
  • a few drops almond extract
  • 1 pt1/2 l heavy whipping cream
  • 5-8 leaves of lemon verbena
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pint mixed berries


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using a water glass to make individual portions, or an 8-9in circle for one large Pavlova. Flip the parchment over so the pencil marking is facing down (this ensures that the pencil won't transfer to the meringue). Using an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle in cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and almond, and fold in gently. Mound onto parchment using the circle as a guide, and shape into a disk, flattening the top and smoothing sides slightly. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in the oven.

To make the lemon verbena whipped cream: portion half the whipped cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and add the sugar, heat until the sugar is dissolved and it is just simmering. Remove from heat, and steep the lemon verbena leaves in the cream. Allow to cool and pour the cream into a large mixing bowl with the remaining cream. Using an electric mixer, whip until the cream begins to stiffen. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

-To serve, carefully peel off parchment and place meringue on a platter or cake stand. Gently crack the top with the back of a soup spoon to make a shallow nest for the whipped cream and berries. Spoon the whipped cream evenly over meringue. Cover cream with berries and a bit of lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Images by Kate Berry for Jenni Kayne