Where I’m from in the subtropical region of Australia, temperatures are a little different at the moment. As we here in Vermont are trying to stay warm, Aussies in my hometown and all over the continent are trying to cool down. Seat-belt buckles are like branding irons. The asphalt is in liquid form. Eggs could be cooked on car hoods. Air conditioning is a medical necessity.
Christmas Day is spent submerged in water as much as possible. Wake up, get in the pool.
Open presents, back in the pool. Lunch, maybe a nap in the AC, then back in the pool. All with a frosty beverage, of course — hydration is key!
Many people try to avoid turning the oven on at all. Cold seafood and previously baked ham are both very popular Christmas dishes, and the desserts are often cold too. Today’s dessert is a very common celebration dessert, and what is Christmas if not the ultimate celebration of food, family and love (especially since Australians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving)? I know this column will be post-Christmas, but there are no rules here, make it anytime, save it for summer or even next Christmas!
Pavlova is somewhat contentious in the homeland. Its origins are disputed hotly between Australia and New Zealand. As with many other quality things, I feel it is likely that Australians have co-opted the creation of pavlova from our friends across the ditch. Nevertheless, it is part of my culture and I’m happy to share it with you all.
Essentially, pavlova is a baked meringue, crispy and crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y on the inside, toped with whipped cream and seasonal fruit. The pavlovas I grew up with were topped with passionfruit pulp (scooped out of the fruit, which grow prolifically in the tropics on many back fences), then kiwi slices, sliced grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and other yummy fruits. I haven’t been able to find passionfruit here, even in a can, so the recipe that Nigella Lawson wrote for the New York Times has been my go-to. You really want to keep the fruit topping tart and sharp, to cut through the sweetness of the meringue and the richness of the cream.
If you don’t have a stand mixer, this is a very time-consuming and laborious recipe. I have done it many a time with a hand mixer, but that is a real pain (literally, my arms hurt), so when I finally got my KitchenAid this year (thanks, Mum!) my pavlova making was totally revolutionized! The egg whites really must be whipped hard and long.
Pavlova with balsamic strawberries
Adapted from “New York Times Cooking”
- 4 egg whites
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar (superfine is even better if you have it, but not powdered)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon white wine or apple-cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 16 ounces heavy cream
- Optional: other berries, mint leaves
Preheat oven to 350F.
Separate four eggs. It is absolutely essential that no yolk gets into the whites for this recipe, so I like to crack each egg into a small bowl, check that it’s clear, then tip it into a (very clean, dry) stand mixer bowl. If any fat gets into the mixture, you’re in trouble! Sprinkle the salt over the egg whites in the bowl and start the mixer at a low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue beating until the mixture shows satiny soft peaks. While this is happening, draw a circle on a piece of parchment paper with pencil (I recommend using an 8- or 9-inch cake pan as a guide), then turn it over so the pencil mark is facing down. Set aside.
When the egg whites have reached the desired consistency, start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. No need to wait more than a few seconds between each tablespoon; you just don’t want to dump it all in at once.
Keep beating the mixture until there are no or almost no grains of sugar felt when you rub the mixture between finger and thumb. The mixture should be very stiff and shiny. Sift the cornstarch over the mixture and sprinkle in the vinegar and vanilla. Fold in very gently.
Mound the mixture onto the prepared parchment and smooth the top. This doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes I like to make a ridge around the outside to keep the topping contained, but honestly, be as freeform as you like here. Place in oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300F. Bake for 75 minutes. Do not open the oven door during the bake. When time is up, open the door, but do not remove the meringue from the oven for at least two hours, preferably four or more.
To prepare the topping, combine all remaining ingredients except the mint leaves, stir to combine well, and leave for at least 15 minutes but preferably more, and up to two hours.
To serve, whip cream to very stiff peaks. Peel the paper carefully from the meringue and place it on a cake plate or stand. Top the meringue with the cream, then the fruit mixture, letting some of the liquid drizzle down the side. Garnish with mint leaves.
NB: I have always tried to use my own photos so you can see that things don’t have to be perfect to taste good, but I completely forgot to photograph this when I made it last Saturday for a party! My sincerest apologies.