Think of these beautiful, messy desserts as strawberry shortcake that swaps out meringue cookies for the shortcake. Don't worry if they break, or are misshapen – they look even nicer when they're artfully disheveled. Have last-minute guests and need to stretch the meringues to accommodate more strawberries and whipped cream? That's no problem either: Just use one meringue per dessert instead of two. The shells can be made up to one day in advance and stored overnight in airtight containers.
For the Pavlova shells:
3 egg whites at room temperature
1 pinch of cream of tartar
7/8 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon liqueur, orange liqueur or vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
For the topping:
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved (if small) or quartered (if large)
4 teaspoons lemon liqueur or orange liqueur, divided
1 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
2. In a medium-large bowl, use a stand mixer or hand-held mixer to beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar till it forms soft peaks. Continue beating while adding the sugar gradually, then beat until the egg whites hold stiff peaks. Add the lemon or orange liqueur or vanilla, along with the lemon zest, and beat briefly to combine.
3. Spoon the meringue onto the baking sheets into 3 1/2-inch circles, leaving at least an inch between them. You should have enough meringue for 8 or 9 circles. Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees. After about 25 minutes, switch the baking sheets' places in the oven (and turn them around), so the meringues bake evenly. Bake until the meringues are light golden and hard to the touch, about 45 to 60 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave them in the oven to cool with the door slightly open.
4. While the meringues are baking, place the strawberries in a large bowl and toss them with 2 teaspoons of the lemon or orange liqueur. Set aside.
5. In another bowl, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the sugar and the remaining 2 teaspoons liqueur, and whip briefly to combine.
Place a meringue on each of 4 dessert plates, and top with a big dollop of whipped cream and some strawberries. Top each with another meringue, then a quarter of the remaining whipped cream; divide the strawberries among them to top. If you're left with a remaining meringue, you can crush it a bit and use to garnish the tops, consider it a bonus cookie – for now or later.