21 January 2013

Classic Pavlova: for Australia Day

Happy New Year and Happy Australia Day week! While the end of January seems a little late in the year to be giving New Years' wishes, I have been a little lax in getting back into the swing of things since Christmas. So with the first week back at work under my belt and now my first blog for the year I will race past Christmas and towards that merciful public holiday for those back at work with the year stretching out in front of them - Australia Day. Christmas was the ideal antidote to a busy year with a long relaxing break in WA with family reading, camping, snorkelling, fishing and of course eating - glazed ham, black brim from river to BBQ in a matter of minutes, caramel flan with a hint of orange, iced cherries, zesty quinoa salad, turkey quesadillas with exceptionally hot jalapenos, chicken curry with eggplant from the garden, Dad's corn chowder (it's not camping without it)... the list of good, restorative, tasty food goes on.

I ummed and ahhed over Australia Day fare, with vegemite and lamingtons being the forerunners, or some canny composition of the two (the idea of which was met with concerned amusement by my husband, turning to horror when he realised I was not joking). I have not entirely shelved the idea but without time to experiment I am going for that "Aussie" favourite that is so perfect for summer get togethers while every berry and stone fruit imaginable is ripe and ready, the Pavlova.

While claiming the Pavlova as Australian remains contentious with New Zealanders, this only further makes me think of it as truly Australian as we are notorious for claiming anything we are proud of which has touched Australian soil as "ours" - Phar Lap, Russel Crowe, Crowded House... though they were all born in NZ their fame is synonymous with their lives in Australia, moving across the pond at an early age. Likewise the Pav, whether or not it was invented here, it is a truly Australian dessert that we celebrate.

The ideal Pavlova should have a crunchy, melt in the mouth shell with a light, marshmallowy interior, though everyone likes the crunch to marshmallow ratio a little differently. They are not difficult to make but there are a few important steps to ensure your Pav works...
  1. ensure you do not have any egg yolks in with the whites or it can stop the meringue forming that makes the Pavlova so fluffy
  2. make sure your bowl and beaters are clean, dry and free of any oil or the whites won't fluff
  3. bring your egg whites to room temperature
  4. know your oven, if it runs hot or cold you need to know or your timings for perfect Pav will be way out... get a cheap oven thermometer if you suspect your oven is off, you may be amazed by just how far off they can be!

For my perfect Pavlova I cannot improve on the recipe of another iconic Australian, Maggie Beer. I truly have not had a more successful, better tasting original Pav than this recipe.
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 300 mls pure cream, for whipping
  • fruit of choice to decorate (seasonal berries, mango, passionfruit, cherries, sliced stone fruit, poached fruit - the choice is yours)
  1. Preheat oven to 160˚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 it begins to whip into a pale foam which can just hold 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. This may seem an annoyingly lengthy process but it makes for a smoother, silkier shell.
  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 over the cornflour and vinegar and give the meringue one last burst to combine (no more than 5 - 10 seconds).
  7. Once you have the ideal consistency 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. Don't make it too flat as you want the fluffiness inside. I like mine to have texture as anything too perfect looking can lack charm and always makes me think it will be flavourless (even if it isn't).
  8. Place your tray in the heated oven on a middle or lower 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. 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.
  9. You can store the completely cooled base in a sealed container for up to 2 days before serving.
  10. When you are ready to serve, whip cream to cover the Pavlova then top with the fruit of your choice. I never add sugar to the cream as the Pavlova is so sweet but a tablespoon of Cointreau or a teaspoon of vanilla extract can be nice. Only add the cream and fruit shortly before serving so your Pavlova doesn't lose its crunch!

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