23 January 2013

Decadent Chocolate & Cherry Pavlova

All I can say is cream and fruit can cover a myriad of structural problems so even when a Pavlova is a "failure" it is a success… and this tasted phenomenal.
This Pavlova started with all the hallmarks of a successful show-stopping dessert. Cherries are in cheap, ripe abundance at the moment so I wanted to use Nigella’s chocolate Pavlova as a platform for fresh cherries by incorporating the flavours of that Aussie classic chocolate bar the Cherry Ripe (dark chocolate, moist coconut and glacé cherries) into the meringue before cooking. The idea being that with the shell made the night before, I would be destined for an effortless end of meal flourish with a dab of cream and scattering of glossy cherries. Unfortunately my kitchen appliances had other ideas…

I measured all the ingredients, tweaking here and there, then set about beating my egg whites to a foamy lather. Just after incorporating a quarter of the sugar my beaters died with the faint whiff of electrical smoke. Disaster. Had it just been egg whites I could use them for an omelette, had they had all the sugar incorporated and been approaching stiff I could have made flat but tasty meringues. As it was I had 6 mildly sweet egg whites rapidly deflating. I tried the whisk, heaven knows how people hand whisked meringues in days of old, my arm wore out long before another quarter of the sugar was added. I took off down to our local supermarket grabbed some cheap beaters and went for it. While it improved greatly in texture and volume, the meringue never reached the real depth you want, evidently the hour long stop and start process is not conducive to Pavlova making.
I finally got my flatter than usual disk of Pavlova in the oven and set it on its merry cooking way, after 45 minutes I turned down the heat, then came back 45 minutes later to turn it off only to discover the oven stone cold! With no idea when the gas went out I poked my finger through the top of the Pav (cream covers this technique for checking if a Pav is done very nicely) and was met with gooey chocolate filling. Gas back on, in the oven for another 45 minutes, oven off with door shut (now past midnight). The next evening arrived and as dinner came to a close I set about removing my Pav from the baking paper… not only did I pull the entire crunchy shell off but it shattered into several pieces. Using a spatula I scraped the fluffy filling onto a plate in a vaguely circular shape and set about reconstructing the shell on top, slathered it with whipped cream and topped with icy cherries and roughly chopped Cherry Ripe pieces. It scrubbed up all right and every last crumb was eaten.

The main things to remember are:
a) once you cut a Pavlova it looks a mess anyway
b) cream has magical covering properties

... so don’t stress if your Pav cracks, implodes, weeps, is a toasty brown colour, has finger holes in the top - a homemade Pavlova is a divine thing... it just may not photograph well. 
  • 6 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 300 grams caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons corn flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup moist coconut flakes
  • 1/3 cup glacé cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 70 grams good dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 300 mls pure cream, for whipping
  • fresh cherries and chopped Cherry Ripe for decorating
  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C
  2. Trace around a bowl on a sheet of baking paper approximately 16 cm in diameter, place ink side down on a baking tray. This is the guide for your Pav, make sure there is extra room around the circle on the baking sheet as the Pav will expand a bit.
  3. In a large glass bowl beat egg whites at high speed with pinch of salt until they begin to whip into a pale foam which just holds its shape (do not over beat at this stage).
  4. Gradually add sugar while beating at high speed by sprinkling a heaped dessert spoon at a time, allowing each to be incorporated before adding the next.
  5. When all the sugar is combined the meringue should be stiff and glossy and hold its shape very well. If you are close but there is still a little give in the meringue, keep beating on high in short bursts until you get there, you do not want to over beat.
  6. Sift together the cornflour and cocoa powder, then sift over the meringue in the bowl; add the vinegar and give the meringue one last burst with the beaters to combine (no more than 5 - 10 seconds).
  7. Add the moist coconut, glacé cherries and chopped dark chocolate and gently combine through the meringue - do this in 3 stirring motions only as you do not want to lose the air in the meringue. 
  8. Blob the meringue into the centre of the circle drawn on your baking paper, then using a spatula gently tease it into a rough circle.
  9. Place your tray in the heated oven on a middle shelf and immediately turn the heat down to 150˚C, cook for 45 minutes then turn the oven down to 120˚C and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on your oven, mine needs the hour as it runs a bit cold. The easiest way to test is to crack a little hole in the top and see what it looks like inside, only do this right at the end when you think it's done otherwise the Pav dries out and can lose its marshmallow qualities. 
  10. Once it is cooked, turn the oven off leaving the Pavlova in the oven until the oven and Pavlova are completely cool - at least 3 hours or overnight. If you have a well-sealed oven (you lucky duck) use a clothes peg or wooden spoon to prop the door slightly ajar while the Pavlova cools. If your oven leaks heat like mine, leave the door completely closed.
  11. You can store the completely cooled base in a sealed container for up to 2 days before serving.
  12. When you are ready to serve, whip cream to cover the Pavlova then top with fresh cherries and chunks of Cherry Ripe, if you do not have access to Cherry Ripe's sprinkle with a little coconut, shaved dark chocolate and finely chopped glacé cherries. This base sweet so you don't need to add sugar to the cream but a little cherry liqueur could be lovely. Only add the cream shortly before serving so your Pavlova doesn't lose its crunch!

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