Updated: Dec 8, 2020
by Maurice Alexander
Image courtesy of ponce_photography on Pixabay
Considering my previous entry In Gaudie Gourmet introduced the delights of raw egg pasta dishes, you will have since experienced the pangs of regret when you discard unwanted eggwhites, an unfortunate casualty when these recipes solely call for egg yolks. It is for this reason I bring to your attention the pavlova, a grand three-tiered dessert of crisp, soft-centred meringue, a rich layer of cream and a spritely, flavoursome topping, with such compatible versatility it can accommodate the seasonal produce of the entire year.
However, it is impossible to put into print all the different flavour combinations for pavlovas, so I have constructed a recipe I believe works well as a blueprint.
Ingredients - Serves 6 to 8
Half of a lemon
4 egg whites
240 golden caster sugar
A teaspoon of Cream of tartar or corn-starch
Tablespoon of lemon juice/white wine vinegar
A Pint/600ml of double creamToppings of your choice
Meringue is the baked amalgamation of whipped egg whites and fine sugar. As mentioned previously, the tragically discarded whites of egg used in dishes like lemon linguine and carbonara mean that they are in constant supply, yet no-one wants to have a pavlova several times a week, as delicious and varied as they can be. The solution is to freeze them; during the separation of the yolks and the whites, hold the egg above the open mouth of a freezable plastic bag or another container like foil/plastic tub and allow the whites to fall in. Place them into the recesses of a freezer and withdraw when a pavlova, or any dish commanding eggwhites, is desired. The whites will keep for weeks and be just they are when fresh from the shell. It must be warned; if you’re constantly storing unwanted eggwhites in this way, your freezer will resemble an amateur sperm bank.
Preparing a pavlova begins the evening before the day of serving. Before engaging with any of the core ingredients, run the cut side of a lemon-half around the surface of a large mixing bowl. This has a degreasing action that encourages the whites of the egg to whip up with greater ease. Just gently run the cut yellow flesh against the surface cleanly, without squeezing or juicing the fruit; there should only be a thin film of the acerbic liquid coating the bowl's interior so tip out the puddle of lemon juice if you have used excessive force.
Once performed, pour in the egg whites, fresh or defrosted, and whip until frothy taking on a slightly larger volume than their initial state. This can take several minutes of beating with a whisk depending on the temperature of your egg whites and the vigour at which you whip them. If you are inexperienced in the use of a balloon whisk and would like to avoid experiencing a great deal of muscle fatigue, use a stand mixer on the high setting for five minutes or use an electric beater on high for the same duration.
Once slightly inflated and frothy, toss in the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly and holding off the following addition until the present spoonful of sugar has been absorbed into the eggwhites. The rule of meringue making is that you have four tablespoons of sugar for every egg white, so for this recipe’s four egg whites calls for sixteen tablespoonfuls of golden caster sugar, which works out to be 240g considering the 15g size of every tablespoon measurement.
Caster sugar, golden or white, is used as the finer granules dissolve readily into the meringue mix. Granulated sugar requires a much longer time for incorporation and icing sugar, albeit much finer, gives an empty sweetness to the meringue. It is mandatory that this incorporation process is lengthy and unhurried or else the meringue will feel grainy on the palate. This stage cannot be skipped, so my only advice is to employ a great deal of patience and constantly top up your resilience with thoughts about how this will be a glamourous, show-stopping dessert is sure to wow your friends.
I know it would seem obvious to again recommend the robotic assistance of a stand mixer for this stage of the recipe, but the likelihood of any students possessing such equipment is nil, so the next best thing is an electric beater tracing through the mixer in a figure-head motion or to channel the neo-Luddite spirit of Ted Kaczynski and use human strength alone with a silver balloon whisk to whip the mixture into a flowering mass of shimmering, white peaks. With all this whisking and whipping, I strongly recommend a whisk with a comfortable handle with an ergonomic design and avoid those with thin wire handles that cut into the flesh of your palm.
The sugar-egg mixture rewards you for an outstanding commitment by more than quadrupling in size and adopting the posture of thick cement. A final test to check sugar absorption is to take a small pinch of the white mass and rub it between the pads of your index finger and thumb; a grainy feeling shows that the mix needs to be whipped further, however, if the grain is sparse, I usually rule that it is complete and move on, with no complaints about graininess yet. Possessing reasonable smoothness, the meringue mix can be enriched with the vanilla essence to add a depth of flavour to substantiate the sweetness of sugar. To ensure the structural integrity of the meringue base, add the teaspoon of cornstarch or cream of tartar (they are interchangeable for this recipe) and the tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar. The measurement is so small that the liquid fails to impart any flavour, so I use the lemon juice out of practicality as you have already cut a lemon to degrease the bowl. I am without an explanation for the chemistry behind it, but it works and prevents your meringue base melting in the oven and becoming a flat disc, or worse, flowing onto the floor of the oven with all the mess that entails.
Tear a sheaf of baking parchment and lay it upon a baking sheet and spoon on the flavoursome meringue mix to form the pavlova base. The mix will be thick and pliable like a mouldable cloud, so you should have no difficulty forming it into the height and thickness of an average cake. If that description escapes you, take the base of a cake tin and trace it onto the paper for use as a visual guide. Smooth the surface and refine the shape with a measured use of a butter knife. Avoid forming decorative cones and wisps as they will bake faster than the main body of the meringue and burn during the latter half of baking. The surface appearance of the meringue should be of no concern as it will be smothered by cream and toppings.
Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius for conventional ovens, 160 Celsius for fan-assisted ovens or gas mark 4 for gas-supplied ovens and place the meringue onto the central shelf before immediately reducing the heat to 150 Celsius for conventional ovens, 130 Celsius for fan-assisted oven or gas mark 2 for gas supplied ovens. The logic of the high initial heat is to cause the meringue to seize up and form a crust around its outer surface, securing its shape. Allow the meringue to bake at the lower temperature for one hour. At the end of the baking time, end the supply of heat to the oven and leave the meringue to rest in the chamber overnight. The gradual radiation of heat allows it to develop a soft centre that provides the perfect contrast to the crisp outer layer. In the morning, withdraw the meringue from the oven; it should be completely cool without any scorching. Upturn it onto a cake stand or a large plate and peel off the baking parchment to reveal the tender underside. By laying the outer shell of the meringue against the surface, it allows this soft underbelly to merge with the cream.
For the cream, have it chilled in the fridge and pour into a large mixing bowl (it needs to be large as it will double in size). You do not need exactly a pint, but you should have no less than 500ml. Confusion is often faced when recipes hosted online or sourced from overseas talk about different types of cream, with Americans mentioning ‘heavy cream’ and French recipe books listing ‘crème entière’. These three white liquids differ by their fat content, which in turn affects their ease of whipping. For example, during demonstrations of whipping cream, American productions will instruct viewers to whip the cream in a metal bowl suspended in ice water, a practice totally unknown on this island. The reason for this is that for the cream to whip into a cloudlike consistency, it must possess a minimum fat content of 30%. Lowering the temperature of the cream assists its stabilisation a great deal and is necessary considering the fat content of both American ‘Heavy cream’ and French ‘Crème Entiere’ hovers around the mid-thirties. Double cream is spectacularly easy to whip with a minimum fat content of 46%, explaining why it congeals together following a minute of whipping. Whip the cream until it can form soft peaks that just barely hold together, not overwhipping to a dense paste.
The topping is entirely up to you. I am personally fond of sharp curds and conserves with their paralysing tang. I believe they work perfectly in providing an intense flavour in pavlovas to compensate for the sweetness of the meringue and the richness through the cream. Fresh fruit toppings should follow the same idea, flavoursome fruit with minimal sweetness like blackberries, pomegranate seeds, sour strawberries etc resting on top of the bed of cream presenting as though they have stumbled onto the dessert of arranged with a chintzy flourish. For curds and other liquid sources of flavour, an incredibly strong coffee-syrup could work well too, they are applied onto the meringue base with the cream as the top layer.
Draw the angled tip of a butterknife side to side through the lake of cream, the gliding motion leaves a wave-like pattern like the movements of a boat cutting through the water. Finishing touches do make the difference. Garnish the untroubled whiteness with complementing garnishes. Finely grated lemon zest is the perfect touch to a lemon-curd pavlova, crystallised or dried rose petals work wonderfully in a rose-petal conserve pavlova, and a light dusting of cocoa powder is a fitting complement to a pavlova flavoured with a coffee-syrup glowering in all its intensity from beneath the cream.