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

Foolproof Meringues

Unlike most foods in baking, meringues are not cooked as much as dried out in the oven. A very low temperature should be used when making them to prevent the meringues from colouring in the oven – they should come out a brilliant white. They are also incredibly versatile as meringue can be used not only to decorate other desserts but also as the main base for pudding – for example pavlova and Eton mess. They can be either solid or marshmallowy inside but be careful, if they are undercooked a tasty snack can easily become the equivalent of eating something akin to superglue.

Owing to their minimal list of ingredients, colouring meringues can be a bit of a hassle. Ideally you want to use egg whites which you separate out from the yolk yourself. This is because the egg whites which come in a carton tend to be pasteurised and during this process, some of the proteins are affected so they do not whip up as well as fresh egg whites. If you do have to use egg whites from a carton, you will have to whip the meringue for far longer and should also use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to help bind them. It is imperative that you use gel food colourings or even better, gel paste as normal water based food colouring can disrupt the balance between the sugar and egg white and lead to the meringues deflating. The same can be said of adding flavourings – if they are liquid based, add them right at the end and add as little as possible. Adding a teaspoon of cornflour can help offset this problem but won’t prevent it entirely.

There are several types of meringue – French, Swiss, and Italian – which are all made and used in different ways. The recipe below is a classic example of a French meringue. The egg whites and sugar are whipped together to form a thick, glossy mixture which holds it shape upon piping. It is then baked to set the proteins in the egg white and drive off excess water. Swiss meringue is similar however it is whipped in a bain marie (over a pan of simmering water) until it is thick. The mixture is then removed from the heat and beaten until cool – the meringue is again baked. The final type is Italian meringue. Unlike the other two, this used hot sugar syrup instead of solid sugar. When it is added, the mixture will go very runny. It is then whipped until cool resulting in a stiff meringue. As the sugar syrup was very hot when it was added, the egg whites are already cooked so Italian meringue does not need to be baked before using. As a result, it is common to put it on lemon meringue pie and baked Alaska before blowtorching the outside to give it a caramelised finish.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that you end up loving meringue as much as I do!

Meringues

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hr plus

Ingredients:

3 egg whites (room temperature works best)

6 oz caster sugar

½ tsp lemon juice/white vinegar/cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

Method One (with a stand mixer):

Preheat the oven to 85-90⁰C

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.

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The meringue mostly holds its shape on the whisk – it could probably do with another few minutes at this point.

Take a tiny bit between your fingers and see if it feels gritty. If it does, continue to whisk the mixture for another minute or two until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pipe or dollop shapes or piles of the mix onto a lined baking tray.

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Bake for around two hours until the meringues come away from the base of the baking tray without breaking.

Method Two (with an electric hand whisk):

Preheat the oven to 85-90C

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the sugar in two tablespoons at a time and make sure to keep whisking in between additions so the sugar will dissolve properly.

Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add in the salt and lemon juice and continue to whisk for another five or so minutes until the mixture is very thick, glossy and smooth.

As with method one, use a piping bag or a spoon to make little mounds of meringue on the baking sheet and place into the oven for around two hours.

Serve with cream and fresh fruit.

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Deconstructed pavlova with rainbow meringues.
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Banana caramel with meringues? Yes please!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe; for another sweet treat check out my recipe for apple pie (it’s possible to make this one vegan) or if you fancy something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some red pepper and tomato soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with an easy recipe for crispy skin salmon and lemon couscous – it’s super fast and utterly divine!

H