Whenever we go to a restaurant ( and I must admit that this is very rare – mainly because we are on a very low income, but also because we eat so well at home that it has to be very very good to warrant shelling out money ! ), I always go to the Dessert section of the menu first ! Then, having made a choice, I plan the rest of the meal around it !!! Who wants entree, when there is dessert ? !!! I’m afraid that I have a terrible sweet tooth, but I suspect I am not alone in that !
Having just made a pavlova as my food offering for my friend’s birthday party last weekend and also because the Festive Season is snapping at our heels, I am sharing two of our favourite dessert recipes with you : Pavlova and Carved Watermelon Fruit Salad.
With many thanks to The Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook 1988. I’m sure their newer books probably still carry the recipe! See ‘Mini Cheesecakes, Pavlovas and Trifles’ perhaps, at : http://www.australian-womens-weekly.com/catalogue/category/1053
Pavlova is the quintessential Antipodean dessert ! I say ‘Antipodean’ rather than ‘Australian’, because apparently New Zealand also claims ownership. See : http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/airnewzealand/8435774/who-owns-the-pavlova-new-zealand-or-australia ). However, food historians all agree that the dessert was named after Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1881-1931), who toured both Australia and New Zealand in 1926 and Australia again in 1929.
I have taken this dessert so many times with us to barbecues and it is the easiest thing to make. I don’t know why people seem to think they are temperamental, as I have NEVER had any problems ( my friend used to call me the Pavlova Queen !) and its taste far surpasses that of any store-bought cardboard versions !!! Also, it is so much cheaper – I was flabbergasted by price at the grocery store – $12, when I reckon my recipe would cost more like $2 !!!
I think the key is having all the ingredients at room temperature and making sure you beat it on full speed for the full 10 minutes. Women’s Weekly also suggests that you use large egg whites, which are as fresh as possible, though I have never really thought about how fresh my eggs are !!So first of all, get those eggs out of the fridge, so that they can warm to room temperature ! This is probably the time to slip in a very amusing story about my youngest daughter’s cooking lesson with my friend Nell ! Sorry Nellie, but it is just too good not to share !!! Nell was teaching my 11 year old daughter how to make a cake, while I was chatting to another (newer) friend at the dinner table. Nell was explaining the importance of having your eggs at room temperature, so to speed things up, she used the time-honoured method of using her body warmth to heat up the eggs. When she and my youngest returned to the dinner table, my dinner guest asked my eleven year old what she had learnt about cake-making and was gob-smacked when she promptly and cheekily responded that it was important to have all your ingredients at room temperature and that the best way to warm up eggs was to pop them in your bra! Brought the house down ! But it does work !!! And quickly !!! Just don’t forget that the eggs are there and give your significant other (or your guest !) a big hug ! But I digress ! By now your eggs should be ready !!! If not, you know what to do !!!
Set the oven to Very Slow ( 120 degrees Celsius) and ensure the rack is in the middle of the oven.
Separate the 4 egg whites from their yolks. I find the easiest way to do this is to use a saucer and an eggcup with a fine edge. Make sure you don’t get any egg yolk or egg shell splinters in the bowl.Beat the egg whites in a bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for 1 minute or until soft peaks form. The first photo below shows my trusty old Kenwood mixer, which I inherited from my mother-in-law. It would have to be at least 50 years old- probably more ! It has been an amazing machine !!!
Measure out 1 cup castor sugar. I usually sift it, so there are no lumps at all. Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beat each addition well until it is completely dissolved before adding the next spoonful. Scrape any sugar grains down from the side of the bowl and beaters several times. Be fanatical about dissolving every last grain of sugar !!!
Beat for a full 10 minutes. I tend to add the sugar in the first 5 minutes, scrape down the bowl for remnant sugar, then beat another 5 minutes.Lightly grease an oven tray, then sprinkle it with a little plain flour and shake away excess flour. Mark the shape of the pavlova on the tray. You may mark out a standard 18cm circle with a plate or a cake tin. I have also made pavlovas in the shape of Australian maps for Australia Day barbecues (with an over-sized Tasmanian Pavlova as well, to counteract the fact that my poor birth state has been known to be omitted from some Australian maps in the past ! ), as well as flowers, Valentine hearts, flags, you name it – you are only limited by your imagination !!! But remember if you are doing a different or larger shape, to double the recipe, so you have enough meringue ! A word to the wise at this point : DO NOT NIBBLE !!! You will end up with a sugar-induced migraine !!
Scrape all the meringue on to the circle/shape on the prepared tray (photo above on the right) and carefully cover the outline evenly with a spatula. Smooth the sides of the pavlova as straight and as tall as possible. Make vertical furrows on the outside edge with the flat blade of a knife to add stability to the sides while cooking. Level the top of the pavlova.Bake in a very slow oven for 1 – 1.5 hours or until it feels dry and crisp. Don’t worry if the centre still feels a little soft, as it will harden as it cools.Turn the oven off and leaving the oven door ajar, cool the pavlova in the oven (1 hour).Gently push in the centre (above photo) and fill it with whipped cream (I usually add 2 tsp castor sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence) and fruit of your choice. When I made the Australian map, I used pineapple pieces for Queensland, mango slices for Northern Territory, bananas for New South Wales, cherries for Victoria, raspberries for Tasmania, strawberries for South Australia and kiwi fruit for Western Australia (for absolutely no reason, except I wanted to use them for their taste and colour !!!), all topped with passion fruit of course !!! My recent French Flag Pavlova had blueberries on the first third, then plain whipped cream in the middle and finally strawberries on the last third, representing its tricouleurs.
P.S. Don’t worry if there are a few cracks in the pavlova after cooking, as they can easily be patched up with cream or if the middle is still a little soft (so long as it is not runny!), as there is nothing nicer than that gooey-chewy texture ! Enjoy !!!
P.P.S. Don’t even contemplate moving the pavlova off the baking tray to a more attractive and acceptable serving plate ! It’s just not worth all the drama ! That is, unless you are very very clever !!! Just hide the marks on the baking tray instead with pretty flowers !!! And don’t worry- I do know the French flag hasn’t got a red rosebud in the middle !!!
P.P.P.S ! If you have doubled the recipe and have leftover meringue, try making snails, hedgehogs and mice, their features decorated with fine slivers of licorice or musk sticks for antennae, eyes, tails and noses and slivered almonds for quills.
Melon and Fruit Salad with Ginger Mint Served in a Carved Watermelon
A great one for the WOW-factor at your next Christmas / End-of-Year party !
I found the original recipe in Crabtee and Evelyn’s beautiful book : Fragrant Herbal by Lesley Bremness ( see : http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/320492.Crabtree_Evelyn_Fragrant_Herbal ) and have since adapted it to a variety of fruits and a carved watermelon. It really is a gorgeous dreamy book !
Rather than using 2 Charentais melons as suggested, I prefer to use a medium watermelon for its dark green skin, which shows off the carved images to their maximum effect. So when buying your watermelon, look for a good shape with a flat base, so it will sit stably of its own accord, and an even dark green skin. While I have done the carving myself in the past, I tend to commandeer my talented artistic daughters to carve the design, while I do the more mundane tasks (throwing in the odd suggestion occasionally !!!)
You will need a set of lino cutting tools to do the carving- just be careful not to cut yourself and always cut away from your body !!! So here goes …!
- Cut the top off the watermelon- ensure that it is big enough and that you make a straight cut, as this top bit will be the lid, which will also be decorated.
- Scoop out all the flesh from both the watermelon bowl and the lid using a melon baller, reserving the melon balls in a separate bowl. This part is quite sticky and messy, as there is a lot of juice, pips etc. Towards the end, if you think you have enough balls, just scrape out the rest of the flesh with a spoon just short of the white pith.
- Carve watermelon. This is the fun creative bit ! Don’t stress too much if the cuts are not perfect- it is supposed to be home-made and everyone will be so impressed that they won’t even notice if it is not perfect !!! That is, unless you have a major disaster like Australia Day 2014 !!! My poor daughter had taken up the challenge to carve the Australian Coat-of-Arms (see : https://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/coat-arms/#Images ), complete with a cheeky speech bubble next to Tasmania saying ‘Accessible at low tide only !’, and was just showing off her completed handiwork after 2 hours, when the whole thing slipped out of her grasp and crashed to the floor !!! HORROR of HORRORS !!! Poor kid couldn’t believe it !!! It must have been the Tasmanian Bad Fairy !!! We tried holding it all together by wrapping gladwrap firmly around it, but it leaked badly once we put the fruit salad in it and we had to admit defeat !!!
- Mix fruit in a separate bowl. This can include : balled watermelon, rockmelon or honeydew melon; diced pawpaw, mango, nectarines or peaches; blueberries, grapes, cherries or black/ red currants; raspberries and strawberries; whatever you fancy !!!
- Add 1/4 tsp ground ginger, a few drops of lime juice and several sprigs of mint and toss gently.
- Make a syrup of : 150ml water and 115 g sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer till thick and syrupy. Take off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 tbsp orange flower water, 1/4 tsp ground ginger and a few more chopped mint leaves. Mix the cool syrup into the fruit and serve the fruit salad in the carved watermelon bowl. Top with mint leaves and carved watermelon lid. If you are carting this dessert some distance, carry the fruit separately and fill the watermelon when you arrive. I will finish with some photos of our Australia Day disaster!