Most recipes I’ve seen for Pavlova involve summer fruit. On east coast, it is easier to whip up resilient meringues in the winter, when the humidity is lower, so this one uses the fruit of winter: the pomegranate. It also takes advantage of the fact that one can even add a little cocoa to the meringue without (too much) fear of it collapsing. This works well as a holiday dessert: it looks extremely festive with the jewel-like pomegranate seeds and the heaps of whipped cream. It is also lighter than some desserts, so it works well after a large meal.
You can make the meringues the morning that you plan to serve them, and keep them someplace protected until needed.
Preheat the oven to 275ºF degrees and line a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper.
Separate the whites from 4 eggs into a bowl. The best way to separate them is to clean your hands well and to crack the egg with one hand into the other so that you hold the yolk in your palm and the white drains into a bowl. If you haven’t done this a lot, you will want to use a couple bowls: break each egg over one bowl before adding it to the others. If the yolk breaks and mixes with the white, you can’t use the egg anymore. Even a trace of broken yolk can stop the whites from beating properly. Don’t throw out the yolks—you can make lovely fresh pasta with those!
Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a little bowl.
In a very clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peaks, using either an electric handheld mixer or a stand mixer. Add the sugar mixture, a tablespoon at a time, beating continuously. After the mixture has stiffened—and it should be quite stiff—add the vanilla. Using a spatula, mix in the cocoa powder. Be careful not to overmix: adding the cocoa to the eggs will make them lose some of their structure. Mix only as much as is needed to incorporate the cocoa.
Using a spatula, scoop the meringue on to the cookie sheet, in six equal piles. Aim for a circular shape, and smooth out little peaks. Make a slight depression in the center of each meringue (to hold the filling later). If you want, sprinkle sliced almonds on the top of each meringue.
Place the tray in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 250ºF. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the meringues sound hollow when tapped. Depending on the weather, this can take longer. After they are done, turn off the oven and leave the door open and let the meringues cool down. If you aren’t using them right away, be sure to put them some place dry and protected. They can be fragile, so be careful moving them.
While the meringues cook, remove the seeds from the pomegranate: cut it into chunks and use a wooden spoon to smack out the seeds over a bowl. This is quite satisfying, depending on your mood. Pick out any bits of white pith.
To serve, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla. Arrange each meringue on a plate, top with a generous dollop of whipped cream, and a big spoonful of the pomegranate seeds.