We’ve moved back to Australia and thought the first effort in our dowdy but spacious new kitchen should be pavlova. This is an Australian, New Zealand and, oddly, Norwegian dessert favourite that we prepare using a simple recipe that has a few special touches.
A pavlova is basically a giant meringue, but rather than being crunchy or chewy right through it’s meant to be crisp on the outside, with a soft and fluffy interior. A while back I was making ile flottante and encountered what Lenny and I have dubbed the ‘warm method’ of heating the egg whites before beating. We reckon it makes the pavlova mixture more stable and less likely to collapse when shaping and baking, and the inside more marshmallowy when you come to devour it.
Pavlova is not difficult but there are some rules to be observed, particularly that you must let it cool and keep it dry before topping, which you don’t do until right before serving. You can keep the leftovers in the fridge for a few days but they will become less perky as moisture gets into the meringue.
8 egg whites
¼ cup/60 ml water
1 ¼ cups caster/superfine sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar (or 2 tsp lemon juice)
2 tsp vanilla essence (or seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
600ml whipping cream
about 500g fresh fruit such as berries, kiwi, passionfruit
Heat 1 inch of water in a wide saucepan until fine bubbles form in the bottom; keep it just on the brink of boiling. Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar in a glass bowl. Sit the bowl in the saucepan over the heat and whisk gently till the egg mixture is nearly too hot keep your fingers in it. You don’t need to aerate the egg mixture; just keep it moving. This process will help stabilise the mixture so it doesn’t collapse during cooking. Take the mixture off the heat and whip vigorously until it forms stiff peaks; an electric whisk is useful here. You should just be able to hold the bowl upside-down over your head without the mixture falling out.
Line a flat baking tray with baking paper. Gently form the mixture on the tray into the shape of a large round cake – the higher it is, the longer it will take to cook.
Cook the pavlova for at least two hours in an oven that’s been preheated to slow – which is about 107 Celsius or 225 Fahrenheit. Keep cooking it on this temperature until it forms a crispy shell on the outside; it should be marshmallowy and soft in the middle. It may take three or four hours to cook, depending on its overall size. A few cracks are normal. Don’t raise the heat or you will brown the pav; by cooking it slowly you are desiccating the outside and setting the centre.
So your pav does not go moist and lose its crispness, leave it in the cooled oven with only the fan on (no heat) until you are ready to serve it.
Whip the cream, spread it over the top of the pav. Chop the fruit and arrange over the top, preferably with a little fresh passionfruit sprinkled over at the last.
Serve with a sip of sweet, sticky wine.