Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ode to a Pavlova, which could also be a Nightingale.

In this post I continue recounting the culinary exploration that unexpectedly (but happily) accompanied my two months in London circa 2006, where I was introduced to several delicious treats:
Including one Mr. Orlando Bloom. Though I can't profess to know how he tastes.
I'm sure the much-maligned bland and super-boiled dishes do exist, but such niceties as elderflower cordial, welsh cakes, and pavlova have effectively put an end to any stereotypes I may have had about cooking in the UK (whether those dishes originated in the UK or not -- and in most cases, not!). A heartfelt thank you to the Main family for one of the best experiences of my life!

Here be the makings of what constitutes THE original pavlova, for me anyway.
Pavlova in the making! Looks like a microwave, but is a combination oven / microwave. In fact, the owner only knew how to use it as an oven, and never used it as a microwave. The American that I am, just remember to take those metal racks out before 'waving!!
So I'll admit I'm a bit misguided in thinking all the nice things I ate while staying with a British family originated in England (in fact, the pavlova has its origins in New Zealand). But whatever the case, it has since become one of my best dishes, or if not that, then definitely the one I can count on to turn out well most of the time and at least look pretty on the table.

I have also attempted alternate versions, including "forgotten cookies", but am still tweaking those methods and will post when I come up with something I'm happy with.

Mini-pavlovas (3") that I made for S's going-away party in 2010.
The method included here is a modification of several different recipes tried and tested over the years. When making a pavlova, I recommend precision and patience. The method is not as forgiving as other desserts in that substitutions for ingredients are not advised (unless you're experimenting, of course!). The ideal is to have a delightfully dry, crisp, lightly golden exterior, with a slightly moist, pillowy interior that is full and pure white. Common issues are a "weeping" meringue, a "fallen" meringue, and a "chewy" or "tough" meringue. I have at one time or another produced all of these problematic (but tasty) meringues, which are preventable if you attend to the notes below.

Pavlova to ring in 2012!

4 egg whites (room temperature is best -- take care that NO yolk gets mixed in!)
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 cup caster sugar
1.5 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Fresh fruit -- I use strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi. Also popular is passionfruit. Raspberries taste wonderful but tend to bleed all over the place, and blackberries have seeds.

  1. Make sure all equipment is oil-free, and try to avoid touching the inside of the bowl or whipping tines w/ your hands. Oil impedes the ability for the egg whites to stiffen.
  2. Beat egg whites til soft peaks form (tips bend over when you pull the whipping tines out). Keep beating -- don’t stop & start.
  3. Add 3/4 cup caster sugar 1 tbsp at a time. Mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar w/ cornstarch, pinch of salt, and continue to add mixture to the whipped eggs 1 tbsp at a time.
  4. Beat until stiff and shiny, and smooth when rubbed between fingertips. About 5-7 min.
  5. Sprinkle in vinegar and gently fold w/ spatula (15-18 strokes only). Let stand as you assemble the baking equipment for the last bit of sugar to dissolve completely (this is very important -- undissolved sugar will result in weeping or empty meringues).
  6. Draw 7" circle on parchment if you need a guide, then flip onto baking sheet (if you use foil or wax paper, it will stick). Mound meringue, making a shallow well at center (this helps prevent the meringue from cracking when you mound the goodies on top). Bake at 250F for 1h15, turn oven off, crack door open, cool in oven 30 min. (For 3" rounds, bake 35 min, cool in oven as above).
  7. Beat heavy or whipping cream w/ remaining 1 tbsp sugar and vanilla until thickened and slightly frothy -- don't overbeat, should be a consistency between cool whip and whipped cream, but not really either. Spread over pavlova, top with mixed fruit. Serve immediately.
(Note: the meringue base can be made ahead of time and kept for a few days, but once you assemble it it will not last more than a few hours).

NOTE: Depending on the temperature, humidity, and your oven, timing will vary!

Stick one of these on your door, flip on the telly, and dig in! ENJOY! :D

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