Pavlova

Pavlova is another one of those foods which has debatable origins. Both Australia and New Zealand argue that it started with them, however there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence to decide between their claims. This is primarily because the earliest recipe we have for a dessert labelled pavlova is not meringue… it’s gelatine based. What we do know is that the pavlova in the form that we see it today was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova should have a crisp outer shell and a marshmallowy centre. This differs from normal meringue which is usually hard all the way through. This difference is attributed by most chefs to the cornflour added to the recipe, however this is probably done to help stabilise the meringue so it does not deflate. What makes the centre ultra-soft is how the dessert is cooked. By using a slightly higher baking temperature at the start, and then reducing it, the outside of the pavlova is cooked substantially more than the centre so it hardens up before the temperature of the oven is reduced. The pavlova is also cooked for less time than you would use for crisp meringues. If you think about it size wise, the pavlova is far bigger than a standard meringue but is cooked for the same amount of time so the central area will not be cooked as much.

I have talked a lot about whisking eggs in recipes on this blog and I thought that, seeing as it is such a crucial element in this dish, I would go into the actual science behind the meringue. Egg whites are about 90% water and 10% protein. Of this protein, the majority is a substance known as ovalbumin. Ovalbumin has a bizarre property: one end is hydrophilic (that is to say, it loves water) and the other is hydrophobic (it hates water, rather like oil does). This is simplified on the diagram below [1] where the green end is the water loving side and the red is water hating. When in the unbeaten egg white, the protein is suspended in water but this is not good for the hydrophobic side. To avoid the water, the ovalbumin curls up [2] encasing the water-hating region inside the water-loving one. As you beat the egg white, two things happen: one, the ovalbumin is unravelled exposing both sections of the protein (the most stable position for it is on the surface of the liquid [3] where the hydrophilic side can sit happily in the water, and the hydrophobic side can float in the air) and two, air bubbles are beaten into the egg white. As you beat the egg white more and more these bubbles are broken up and made smaller and smaller, increasing their surface area. The surface of the bubbles is the perfect place for the freshly uncurled protein to sit so as the proteins come into contact with the bubbles, they begin to surround them [4]. The proteins then form chemical bonds to each other which causes the giant mesh of air and water to become, at least, semi-stable.

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When you add sugar to the pavlova, you must do it slowly. This gives the sugar time to dissolve in the water in the egg whites (N.B. this is why you should use caster sugar instead of granulated as the crystals are smaller and thus dissolve faster). If you add the sugar too fast, the weight of the solid grains will break the bonds between the protein molecules and cause the meringue to deflate. This is often unsalvageable – you can try to keep beating the mixture on high speed to thicken it up but it will never be as fluffy as it once was.

After baking, you should get as much cream onto the meringue as possible. The fruit choice is up to you – more colours, and more vibrant colours, will have a more striking effect but really no one will mind as long as it tasted good. Be careful if you use a coulis as this can flow off the edge and dissolve the meringue, so try to make the edges of the cream higher than the centre (like a shallow bowl) as this will help prevent any leakage.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

 

 

Pavlova

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 2 hours 10 mins

Cool time: 2 hours

 

8 egg whites (at room temperature)

450g caster sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp lemon juice/white vinegar

Pinch of a salt

 

600ml double cream

Fresh fruit

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C).

Draw a nine inch wide circle on a sheet of baking paper.

 

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a stand mixer. You should be able to invert the bowl without the egg falling out at this point. It’s fun to do this over an unsuspecting friend/parent/child/housemate/loved one (but only if you are certain that it won’t go wrong… accidentally)

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The egg whites hold their shape and appear almost cloud like.

Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time with the mixer running.

Once all the sugar is added, continue beating the meringue until the sugar is fully dissolved.

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The meringue should be thick, glossy and hold its shape. This photo was not taken while the meringue fell from the whisk into the bowl, it actually stayed like this after settling, supporting its own weight.

Beat in the cornflour and vinegar.

 

Spoon the meringue into the centre of the circle on the baking sheet.

Spread it out to edges. You can decorate the boarder with peaks of meringue or just smooth it off so it is flat at the sides if you want a cleaner look.

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Some volume was lost as I used carton egg whites for this – they do not whip up as well as fresh ones but I had no way to get rid of eight yolks and didn’t want to waste any. If you use fresh eggs, you will get a far taller meringue.

If you manage to get maximum volume out of the egg whites, the pavlova will be tall too. It is common to use the end of a spatula or palette knife to drag indents up the side to give the meringue a bit more structure when it bakes. It can also help to make the sides a little higher than the centre to help hold the filling in.

 

Bake for ten minutes before reducing the temperature to 90°C in an electric oven or leaving the oven on gas mark 1 but wedging the door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon.

Bake for another two hours.

Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool in it. If you used a spoon to wedge the door open, shut it now. If you take it out now, it will sink and crack.

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To assemble, beat the cream to soft peaks and spoon over the top of the meringue.

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Decorate with the fruit.

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Pavlova profile

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are interested in trying a different type of meringue (which can also be used for this), check out my recipe for swiss meringue – it’s crispy and delicious.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a Mediterranean dish that is great for lunches.

H

Swiss Meringue

A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.

Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.

Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.

Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

 

3 egg whites

6 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice

 

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.

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You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.

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The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.

Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.

Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.

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Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.

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Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).

Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.

Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.

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Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious dinner.

H

 

 

Macarons

Macarons can be the stuff of nightmares. A single streak of unmixed meringue in the batter can cause the entire batch to crack, unsieved ingredients can make the macarons go lumpy and bad luck can ruin an entire tray for even the most competent baker. That being said, if you can master the art of making macarons, you can succeed at almost anything in the kitchen.

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These orange macarons were some of the best I have made (although the feet are a little more frilly than I would normally want.)

One of the most distinctive elements of a macaron is its foot. Observing the foot of a macaron can give you a good indication of how it was made. Both oven temperature and mixing techniques affect its formation. The foot should be even all the way around, either completely vertical or with a light outwards bulge, and have lots of small pockets of similar sizes. If the foot goes over the top of the shell (giving a cracked appearance), your batter is not mixed evenly; if the feet bulge massively outwards and appear as more of a skirt, you have over mixed your batter. If your macarons are consistently not developing feet, allow them to dry longer before baking as the formation of a skin over the top of the shells will encourage rising from the base of the macaron, helping with the formation of the feet. The lack of feet can also indicate that your oven temperature is too low and a skirt can indicate the temperature is too high so I would encourage investing in an oven thermometer if you wish to make macarons semi-regularly.

Everyone’s oven is different and macarons are a very good way to discover where the hot spots in yours are. If a single batch of macarons has very different results across the tray, this indicates that there isn’t great circulation in your oven. If you don’t have a fan oven, there isn’t much you can do about this but you can adapt in the future by removing macarons in hotspots early and then baking the rest for another few minutes.

The classic image of a macaron is a brightly coloured shell with a smooth filling. The colour of the shells is often indicative of the flavour. When it comes to choosing flavours, the list of things you can choose is almost limitless. I have eaten savoury macarons, I have eaten sweet macarons and there are a particularly interesting set of flavours in the middle where the macarons are sweet but use traditionally savoury flavourings. One that I tried whilst baking for this post was a rosemary and olive oil flavoured macaron and it was delicious!

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Salted caramel and dark chocolate macarons.

Once you have mastered the basic macaron, you can begin to experiment with different fillings and flavours. Why not use them as decoration on cakes or a dessert? They don’t just have to be a delicacy on their own.

I hope you enjoy baking them and that your macarons come our perfectly every time.

 

Macarons:

2 egg whites

140g icing sugar

65g ground almonds (or almond flour)

35g granulated or caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Gel food colouring

Flavourings (these could be extracts like vanilla or orange, rose water, cocoa, green tea etc.)

 

Ganache filling:

Dark chocolate:

150ml double cream

150g dark chocolate

1 tsp sugar

 

White chocolate:

100ml double cream

200g white chocolate

Flavourings

 

 

 

Place the icing sugar and almonds into the bowl of a food processor and blend for a minute.

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Push the mixture through a fine mesh sieve – this step takes time but is important if you want your macarons to have a smooth, glossy top. Once there is only a tablespoon of bigger chunks of almonds left in the sieve, you can discard these and stop. If you would like to make chocolate shells, replace one tablespoon of the mixture with one tablespoon of sifted cocoa. Use the same technique for green tea shells but with two teaspoons of matcha green tea powder instead.

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The sieved ingredients should have no large lumps.
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These large lumps will be ground down as you force them through the sieve. It just takes a little time and elbow grease to do so!

Add the egg whites to the granulated sugar and salt in a separate bowl and whisk with an electric hand beater until a stiff meringue is formed. You should not feel any grains of sugar if you rub a little between your fingers and you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out.

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If you wish to colour and flavour your macarons, use the tip of a knife to add a small amount of gel colour to the meringue. Do not use liquid food dye as it will make your meringues collapse and will also fade in the oven. If you are using a flavoured extract, add a quarter of a teaspoon to the egg whites and beat it in.

Add half the dry ingredients and fold them in.

Once the first batch of dry ingredients starts to mix in, add the rest and continue to fold. Ensure that you use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl as any unmixed in bits of meringue will cause the macarons to crack.

Macarons are surprising forgiving at this stage. You want to keep as much air in during the folding as you have to knock it out again later to get the mix to the correct consistency and this is easier when you have a lighter mix to start with – it will make sure you don’t over mix the batter.

Once the almonds and icing sugar have been incorporated into the meringue, continue to mix until you reach the right consistency. This is when you can lift some batter on your spoon and as you drop it back into the bowl, you can draw a figure of eight with it without the stream of batter breaking. The batter should be thick but still flow a little, any blobs you make on the surface should slowly ink in over about twenty seconds.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Pour the batter into a piping bag and pipe circles of batter about an inch and a half (about 4cm) wide leaving at least an inch (2.5) between them.

Lift up the baking tray and bang the base of it onto the surface ten times. Rotate the tray round so the other side can be banged too and repeat the ten bangs. This will remove air bubbles from the macarons which you will see popping on the surface. You can sprinkle the centre of your macaron shells with sprinkles or something related to the flavour to give a more exciting finish.

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From the top left going clockwise, these shell are for: Plain vanilla, black sesame and white chocolate, orange and chocolate, chilli chocolate, rosemary and olive oil, salted caramel, rose and finally, green tea. The shells are mostly unflavoured.

Place the macarons in a warmish dry place for half an hour to an hour until a skin has formed over the top of them (you can touch the surface of them without it sticking to you).  Some people say this step is optional and I have made macarons before without letting them dry and they did work but the best way to work out if it works for you is practice. Make a couple of batches, leave some to dry and place other straight into the oven and see how they come out!

Preheat the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

Place the macarons one tray at a time on the top shelf of your oven for twenty minutes or until you can lift one off the tray without it sticking. If they stick a little, just give them another two minutes and try again.

Once the shells are cooked, let them cool on the tray until you can touch them without burning yourself. Peel them off the baking sheet and place the shells onto a wire rack to cool.

 

To make a ganache filling, heat the cream until almost boiling and pour it over finely chopped chocolate.

Leave for two minutes for the heat of the cream to melt the chocolate and then stir the two together. You can add flavourings of your choice or sugar to the ganache at this point.

Let the ganache cool until it has thickened up to a thick piping consistency and is no longer warm to the touch.

Match up macaron shells of similar sizes in pairs. On one of each pair, pipe a small dollop of ganache and sandwich the two shells together.

Leave the macarons overnight in the fridge so the ganache can set fully and the flavours can meld between the filling and the shells.

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As you can see, the feet did not appear on either the rose, orange or salted caramel macarons. I am still working out why as I need to get used to my home oven again after university.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For other sweet treats, check out my list of baked goods – last time was a sophisticated chocolate and hazelnut tart – or if you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, why not make yourself a classic bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for another delicious soup – it’s super easy and an absolute classic.

H