This week, we celebrated Australia Day (January 26) which commemorates the arrival of the first fleet to Sydney Cove in 1788 and Britain proclaimed sovereignty over the eastern coast of Australia. It is a national public holiday with community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies. An interesting fact is that the British considered leaving Sydney Cove but saw a French ship nearby so the British stayed on and Australia became a British colony. What if the French arrived first? Perhaps today's recipe would be for a Pain au Chocolat?! Australians do what they love to do best on Australia Day - socialise with friends/family, eat, drink and enjoy life. It also unofficially marks the end of the school holidays, as children end their vacations and will start a new school year within a few days of Australia Day.
If the weather is nice, the beach is the place to be. It's a similar crowd to a professional sporting event - lots of people wearing Australian flag bikinis, t-shirts, hats, towels - very patriotic. The high level of camaraderie and national pride makes for a wonderful atmosphere of good times and goodwill. Lauren and I found a spot on the sand and pondered whether to swim or not as a big shark had been sighted earlier in the day. In the end, we went swimming and then went to a sausage sizzle with friends at our neighbourhood beach.
Given the day, a classic Aussie dessert is a great place to start this blog. Pavlova is one of those iconic Australian desserts. Just as Americans have the apple pie and chocolate chip cookie, Aussies have the Pavlova or Pav or Pavo. I can't say enough good things about it - light, fluffy, pretty, versatile and even somewhat healthy in the dessert department as it is gluten free and can be low or no fat depending how much or little whipped cream you use. Don't be fooled! While this recipe looks simple, with only a handful of ingredients in the cake, the result is all in the technique of making this cake.
(adapted from Donna Hay's recipe)
6 cold egg whites
1.5 cups of white superfine sugar
1.5 tablespoons of cornstarch
3 teaspoons white vinegar
1 carton of whipping cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
2- Beat 6 egg whites in mixer. When stiff peaks are just forming, adding 1/2 cup of sugar at a time while the mixer is still on. Continue whisking until egg whites are big, stiff and shiny.
3- Add cornstarch and vinegar and whisk until just combined.
4- Get out a cookie sheet and put a piece of parchment paper over it. Shape the meringue into a big dome.
5. Place cake in oven and then reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
6. After 1 hr 15 minutes, turn off oven and leave cake in oven for 4+ hours
7. Just before serving, whip the carton of whipped cream with the sugar and vanilla extract. Put whipped cream and berries on top of Pavlova and serve.
Looks easy and delicious, heh? It is... if down correctly. Bakers and homechefs here argue over temperature of eggs, oven, shape.
What the recipe/cookbooks don't tell you:
- The eggs should be cold/refrigerated; they separate better.
- Do not make Pavlova on a rainy or very humid day as your egg whites will not whip up very much due to the moisture in the air.
- Use white sugar, superfine is best. Do not use all natural, raw sugar as it is too heavy and will effect the height and texture of the Pavlova.
- When putting the batter on the parchment paper/cookie sheet, use a spatula to build a nice dome (see photo above). Use the spatula to build your Pav structure. Unlike most cake batters that have raising agents and pans to confine them, the Pavlova doesn't. What you shape it in before cooking will pretty much be the same shape when you take it out of the oven later.
- Do not open the oven at ALL. I repeat, do not open the oven door at all as tempting as it may be. When cooked, your Pav will have some cracks in it; this is normal. However, if you open the oven door, it causes additional cracks in the Pavlova, which is not pretty.
- I like to make this cake the night before I am going to eat it. I prepare it, put it in the oven and then when timer goes off, I just turn the oven off and don't open it again until the morning.
- Put whipped cream and/or fruit on just before serving. The cake can get quite mushy and liquidy if the toppings are sitting on it for hours before.
- For those health conscience - serve the cake plain with the whipped cream and fruit on the side.
- When in doubt, do not chuck it out. Pavlova is forgiving. If your cake doesn't rise a lot, you can still use it by making it a layer cake - cut it in half, spread whipped cream in middle and top with whipped cream and berries.