Happy Birthday Pavlova (well sort of anyway)
Someone near and dear to me professes to loathe desserts and yet cannot resist this one. I had had it with the oven in our old house and swore that when we moved, I would bake a pavlova quick smart. While this new house is large and newish, the kitchen is its definite downfall - small in a HUGE open plan area, inadequately planned and cramped. When we inspected it, I opened the oven, grimaced and asked the agent if she had anything bigger. But everything else was right and so here we are. And I even managed to get my fancy French stainless steel baking tray into the oven (though only just).
So without any excuse to hold off on the long-promised pavlova, I set out with Stephanie Alexander's recipe from the Cook's Companion. I had made meringues years ago and this seemed like a breeze. It must be a Melbourne girl thing - Cin had just made this same one and I might move on to Niki's Nigella Chocolate Pav as soon as I tossed this one off the tray and slathered it with cream. Yeah, that was the theory.
When I assembled the ingredients on the bench top, I discovered that there was no caster sugar in the house. Half a cup of brown sugar for visitors' tea and coffee, but nothing more. So I grabbed the Plumbaby from his bed (he was supposed to be having a nap) and drove off to the supermarket with him still in his Bonds Wondersuit. When we were in the fruit section, a little girl looked up at him sitting in the trolley and said in bewilderment to her mother "Mama, he's in his 'jamas!". Sugar in hand, baby back in bed, I got down to business. The recipe calls for the egg whites and sugar to be whipped to "satiny peaks". Now I know soft peaks and stiff peaks, but this was a new one to me. And at some point while I stared at the beater going round and round, I must have passed soft, stiff and satiny, and moved onto "overwhipped". At least this is the theory. Several frantic whispered phone calls to a cousin who is an old hand at these (she was at work) made it clear that the soft marshmallowy mixture was not prime pav material. She advised throwing it out and starting again. But I was reluctant as (a) it was so very sticky (b) I was working under time constraints and needed the oven for a 3 hour porketta roast soon and (c) I just really couldn't be bothered and honestly, how far from the original could it be?
The glop spread all over the baking paper and for a moment I feared that it would spill over the sides. But the hot oven soon worked its magic and it began to look more like a large flat meringue and less like an accident with a glue pot. It rose, it crisped, it caramelized and while it's not perfect, you'd never know the disaster it appeared to be a hour earlier.
Covered in cream and fruit, the base was crisp on the outside and chewy in the smaller than usual middle. And very very sweet. I tend to like my desserts heavy on the chocolate and cream and light on the sugar, hence the lack of the white stuff in the house. (Actually, I was horrified when I realised that I'd served guests a different flourless chocolate cake every single time they'd visited over six months. A part of my brain doesn't even realise that there are desserts other than chocolate pots, chocolate mousse and heavy chocolate ice cream). But tonight wasn't about me.
Also, happy birthday to another Melbourne girl - Claire Robertson at Loobylu was baking her own cake for today and I hope she had better luck than me. Although, as I've discovered, cream and passionfruit can hide a world of cracks.