There are many rules in cooking and I’m sure I break most of them. But I ignored one the other night and it caught me out. The rule is: if something goes wrong in the beginning, ditch it early. Just move on.
I forgot that so I ended up with three attempts at making a pavlova – which is one of the few desserts I’m usually vaguely competent at. (I’m pretty good at opening Magnum packets, if that counts.)
MissM1 had a visiting Frenchman to stay for few days, so what better meal to showcase our Australian culinary excellence but a barbie and a pav? I mean, surely that would put their coq au vins and raspberry tarts to shame? Pavlovas don’t come out very often in our house, being reserved for special occasions like big family Christmases and 21sts. They’re not technically difficult things to make, but it’s tricky to work out exactly how they adapt to your oven. And they are bloody delicious. No doubt the deliciousness is largely the reason they are horrendously bad for you. No matter how much we pretend, pure castor sugar and cream has little health value apart from making our mouth happy.
So, out comes Stephanie Alexander’s orange bible and I turn to page 294. One would think I wouldn’t need to constantly refer to a recipe to make a pav as there aren’t many steps involved, but a competent baker I am not, and I am liable to go into a bit of blind panic when it comes to baking things without constant reassurance and direction from words on a page. Mind you, I’ve scribbled all over said page and adjusted it where I see fit. Steph’s suggested timing and heat is way too long and hot for my oven, and I’m still perfecting exactly what it should be. And she’s just WRONG when she calls for white wine vinegar – it’s just white vinegar. Just saying.
Anyway, it was late and I wanted to go to bed so when I mixed the egg whites and sugar together I put it on high to do it quickly. Rookie error. So when it was finished it looked wrong. It wasn’t sleek with peaks; it was a heavy blob stuck in the mixer blade that really didn’t want to be dislodged.
‘Oh, that looks wrong’, I said.
‘Chuck it and do it again,’ said Mr T, the calm voice of wisdom in the house.
‘Nuh, it’ll be allright,’ I said, soldiering on, one eye on the clock.
It wasn’t allright. It came out of the oven in a flattened mess on the tray, the wrong colour, the shell too hard, and (this is the important part), the middle flummery. Disaster. It should be gooey inside, not flummery. Don’t want to mistake it for one of those horrid pre-made things from supermarkets or cake chains that pretend to be pavlovas. In the bin it must go.
So, get up early the next morning before work to try again. There’s serious time pressure now so of course I stuff up the separation of eggs at least three times, but the meringue mixture looks good (yes), so I draw the circle on the tray and spread it out and pat it and smooth it and worry it to make it round and attractive. Ughh – praise Lord I am not a sculptor. It takes me 15 minutes to sculpt a vaguely symmetrical mound. How do people sculpt faces, or bodies, or scenes, or other such intricate work?? Finally I am satisfied but just as I’m about to whack it in the oven I remember I’ve forgotten to add the vinegar and corn flour. Are you kidding? (glance at clock again). There’s goes that lovely mound, scraped back into the bowl for the additives, and let’s do that arty sculpting bit all over – and all I’m doing is sculpting a mound, remember?
Finally it is done, the pav’s in the oven and I am off to work (yes, someone else is there to take it out). Actually, the final product still looked a bit cracked and sorry, but close enough and no more eggs in the house.
That night it was topped with copious amounts of fresh whipped cream, strawberries and passionfruit – and it tasted great, just as it should. Just like it did it my childhood at big family Christmases when my Mum was the pavlova queen and where it equally had a special place on the table.
Here’s another and very important rule here. You should always put fresh passionfruit on pavs. Lots of it. Raspberries are good, strawberries if you don’t have raspberries, but there MUST be passionfruit, or it really doesn’t count. And under no circumstances should you add banana. That is really just terrible behaviour and should be considered a criminal offence, perhaps not one worthy of a goal sentence, but a criminal offence just the same. Remember – passionfruit!
In any case, Monsier Le Visiteur was suitably impressed with this little Aussie invention (much more than the Vegemite sampled earlier in the day, which despite its popularity in its country of origin, is a truly disgusting substance). He had three slices (three) of cream-piled pav for dessert, and polished off the leftovers for breakie.
Monsier wasn’t here long otherwise we’d have expected creme brulee in retaliation the next night. Maybe next visit. And we’ll wash it down with Veuve Cliquot and pretend that’s good for us too.