Summer means barbecues and socialising, long days and going to beach and there has been plenty of that this summer.A couple of weeks ago I went to a friend's house for a barbecue. They have just moved into a gorgeous house that is literally five minutes from the beach - living the dream really. I was a tiny bit jealous. One of the treats that they had for dessert was a pavlova which is a quintessential Aussie dessert (okay, it is another one that we fight with New Zealand about, but for the purposes of this post we will go with Aussie!). There was one bought pavlova but the other was a home made one.
For those who don't know what a pavlova is, it is a meringue style dessert which is baked in a low oven so you end up with a crispy shell but a soft and fluffy interior. It is usually covered in whipped cream and fruit for serving. It is basically a lot of sugar so some times it can be too much, but if you get the right mix of sugar and texture and topping...mmmm yum! It's a fine line between delicious and sickly sweet.
Before I went to the barbecue, I watched a segment on TV where they made a pavlova where they said a couple of things that surprised me. One was that it was okay to put your egg whites and caster sugar into the benchtop mixer bowl and walk away for 10 minutes, by which time you should have the right consistency of mixture. The second was that because it is cooked in such a low oven for a fairly low time is that you can cook it directly onto the china serving platter, and that you can have a free form shape if you want! It doesn't have to be a perfect circle!
Now, I have to confess that I have never made a pavlova before. It is on my list of things that I would like to make one day, but it is fair to say that it is something which actually intimidates me a little. First there is getting all those egg whites, which I am not convinced I would be able to do without wasting numerous eggs. And then there is the question of what to do with all those egg yolks, and getting the shell crisp on the outside but still fluffy on the inside. Oh, the pressure.
There are a number of other things that I would like to try one day that I either just haven't gotten around to yet or I am a bit intimidated by. So here is my first question to you all. Are there recipes that you have thought about trying to make but you just haven't or those recipes that you are intimidated by. For me, other examples of recipes that I would like to try one day but I am a bit daunted by include classic sponge cakes and baked cheesecakes. I love cheesecake and make a good no bake cheesecake, but a baked one? Not sure I am brave enough to try.
One of the things about watching the tip about the mixer prompted me to suddenly NEED... not want, need.... to go and start researching benchtop mixers. It is a bit absurd really as I don't have hundreds of dollars sitting around to buy kitchen equipment and I don't really have the benchtop space to have it just sitting there not being used on a regular basis but it doesn't really matter, especially after my handheld mixer started making terrible noises last weekend too. I think I am going to be either saving up to buy one or put one on layby so that hopefully by the end of the year I will have one. But the big question is what to buy. I have been looking at some of the cheaper models that are probably more affordable but the user reviews on those are pretty dire. There is a mid range model by Breville which looks like it might be alright and then there are the big names of the household market - Kenwood Mixmaster and Kitchenaid. So my question is, with apologies to those who already saw me ask this question on Facebook at the time, do you have a benchtop mixer? Which brand is it? Do you use it regularly? Or like me, do you really want one or is it just another gadget to take up space in the kitchen?
Seeing as I have talked so much of pavlova in this post it would be remiss of me not include a recipe. This is a posh version which comes from Kate Brack's book, The Sweet Life, which I have posted recipes from before and is a book that I refer to quite regularly for baking!
Balsamic Pavlova with Strawberry Cream
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
+ cooling in the oven
Makes: 10–12 slices pavlova
6 egg whites
pinch of salt
330g (1½ cups) caster sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) balsamic vinegar
1 tbs cornflour
55g (1/3 cup) icing sugar, sifted
2 punnets strawberries
1 tbs icing sugar, sifted
250ml (1 cup) pouring cream
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Use a pencil to draw a 20cm round onto a sheet of baking paper (trace around a plate). Grease a baking tray, and place the paper onto it, pencil-side down.
2. To make the meringue, place the egg whites, salt and a couple of spoonfuls of the sugar into the bowl. Begin whisking the egg white at medium speed until it begins to foam. Increase the speed to high and whisk for 1–2 minutes, until it turns white and forms soft, smooth peaks when you dip a finger in. With the mixer running on medium speed, gradually add the remaining sugar a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated.
3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then increase the speed to high again for 5 minutes, or until the meringue looks glossy, holds its shape when you lift the beaters and is without any gritty sugar feel.
4. Reduce the speed to low. Add the balsamic vinegar and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sift the cornflour and icing sugar over the mixture and whisk again until incorporated.
5. Using a spatula, pile the mixture onto the baking tray inside the drawn circle. Keep it tall initially, then spread it evenly to the edges, creating a cake shape.
6. Place into the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 140°C and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off but leave the pavlova in there until it has cooled to room temperature. Don’t worry too much if it cracks as it will be smothered in strawberry cream!
7. Meanwhile, to make the strawberry cream, hull 1 punnet of the strawberries and cut them into 1cm pieces. Place into a bowl, sprinkle over the icing sugar and stir to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes.
8. Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Stir through the chopped strawberries and up to 1 teaspoon of any liquid from them.
9. Quarter the remaining strawberries. Spread the strawberry cream on top of the pavlova and scatter with the quartered strawberries.
Note: Using pure icing sugar keeps this recipe gluten-free.
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