Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pavlova (Not as tricky as it looks)

Practically speaking, I am not good at a lot of things.  If I listed all the things I wasn't good at you'd probably wonder how I get through my day.  Yet I muddle through, and I know I'm not alone. There are muddlers all around you and don't think it ain't so.  I know I'm not the only one who's impressed by the casual use of power tools - "A DRILL- OMG, stand back kids ."

So, now you know that I am not the friend you need if your plumbing goes awry or you've put a hole in the wall in a fit of pique. I could only assist by passing the Yellow Pages and advising you to avoid all those who pique you in the first place.  So, what am I good for you may well ask and I would reply well actually I can make a pavlova, and in some circles believe it or not, that's just as impressive as possession of a soldering iron and a piece of 4x2.  (Don't think it beats a ute though).

There's lots of argy-bargy about whether the Aussies or the Kiwis invented The Pav but I'm not buying into that because really who cares?  Let each side pontificate while we get on with the cooking and eating of.

It's not tricky to make a pavlova you just have to make sure your oven is the correct temperature and that you beat in the sugar at the right stage.  Conquer these two things and you'll knock people's socks off with your pav making prowess.

There are a lot of recipes for pavs but they differ only in quantities of eggwhites and sugar.  Some of them add vanilla essence, some don't.  I use the recipe from the Country Women's Association just because those women really know what they're talking about.  Having said that, they also think that everyone knows as much as they know about cooking and consequently their instructions are a little scant so I've elaborated a bit.

4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar

First of all preheat your oven to 150C.  It's important to give it plenty of time to get to the right temperature so give it at least twenty minutes and check with a thermometer unless you know your oven is spot on.

Cold eggwhites do not expand as much as eggwhites at room temperature so you don't want to use eggs straight from the fridge.  Because it's a little trickier to separate room temperature eggs I separate the whites and yolks when they're cold and then leave the whites in a bowl on the bench for a half hour or so (depending on the warmth of your kitchen).   

The presence of grease will also stop eggwhites expanding so I wipe out the mixing bowl with some vinegar or lemon juice, wash it in hot water and then dry.  These seem like fussy little steps but they do make a difference and they don't take long to do.

Start beating your egg whites using a low speed and then increase to medium.  They will be soft with lots of bubbles (below).
Keep beating until it becomes firmer and starts to hold it's shape.  This is where you can start to add the sugar.


I add the a couple of spoonfuls of sugar at a time and beat it in for a minute or so.  Put the beater speed just below medium as you don't want the whites to get too stiff before you beat in all of the sugar.   You can test to see if the sugar has beaten in by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers.  If you can feel the sugar grains then it hasn't been beaten enough.  As you go on you will work out how long it takes for the sugar to dissolve.  This is a really important stage because if you don't beat the sugar in properly the undissolved crystals "sweat" in the oven and you end up with a really sticky, crunchy pav instead of a nicely crisp one. 
It takes a few minutes to beat the sugar in properly and by this time your eggwhites should be really shiny and very thick.  You can if you wish tip the bowl upside down over your head to test if they are thick enough if you'd like to add an edge of excitement to proceedings,  but I prefer to lift the beater like so and if the shape holds then they're done.  Sprinkle the cornflour and vinegar over the top of the meringue and fold in gently with a metal spoon.

Next get an oven tray and line it with baking paper.  You can also use aluminium foil if you don't have any but you will have to lightly grease that.   Trace a circle around a cake tin (about 22cm) onto the paper and then pile up the mixture inside the circle.  Build up the sides a little and make an indentation in the centre so the filling sits better.

Place in the preheated oven on the second lowest shelf and bake for one hour.  Check it after about 45 minutes to make sure it's not browning, it should change to a nice deep cream colour but never brown.  If your oven is accurate it should be ok.  When the hours up, turn off the oven and leave it in there until it cools.

It will crack as it cools down.  I think this is normal as it's happened every time I've made one and I've also never seen a non cracked pavlova so lets just take it as the done thing.  I like to think it gives a nice glimpse of the marshmallowey interior. 

When cool it's time to add your filling.  For a pavlova of this size whip about 3/4 cup of cream, smooth over the top and add whatever takes your fancy.  I love passionfruit and banana.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate on top as I think it's too much on top of the sweetness of the pav.  Macerated strawberries are delicious and kiwi fruit is a favourite.  Lemon curd stirred through the cream is great with practically any topping. 

 For the one pictured below I stirred some crushed, frozen raspberries and passion fruit through the cream and then topped it with thawed whole raspberries.  Always fill the pav at least an hour before you want to eat it because you need time for the cream to soften the meringue a little. 

And that's it. Try it. It's delicious, impressive and more coveted than a tool-belt - I guarantee.