In my mind, pavlova is synonymous with fine dining in Northern Ireland.  Pavlova is also my husband’s favourite dessert so now that we can eat raw or slightly underdone eggs, the challenge is on to master the art of whipping egg whites with sugar and drying them out until they’re just right.

I have always felt quite awed at the thought of tackling pavlova, but my first attempt wasn’t all that bad.  Admittedly, I did my research before embarking on this exercise and found an article in The Guardian  by Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter to be very helpful and informative.  There are all sorts of tips and tricks as to how to make the perfect pavlova and I worked my way through a lot of internet resources before finally settling on a recipe for the meringue.

My first attempt at pavlova produced a delicious dessert and my tasters were very complimentary.  I was a little disappointed, however, that the outside of the meringue cracked and pulled away from the gooey inside and as a result I didn’t manage to manoeuvre it cleanly onto the serving platter.  Second time around, I inverted my rimmed baking pan to make it easier to shift the meringue from pan to plate and I reduced the oven to its lowest indicated temperature which is 100°C to see if that improved the texture of the meringue.  I have no firm conclusions regarding the oven temperature, but what is clear is that you have to get to know your oven and set the temperature accordingly.

Pavlova lends itself to customisation so choose a fruit topping that you like or that complements your meal.  I stumbled upon strawberry and kiwi fruit because our neighbours were leaving and passed on some kiwi fruit to us.  The bright red of the strawberries makes a nice contrast with the kiwi fruit against the backdrop of the white meringue and cream.  Our pavlova connoisseur prefers less fruit relative to meringue and cream so the quantity of fruit is quite small in comparison to many other recipes I have seen.  If you prefer more fruit, then simply increase the quantities to your desired level.

Strawberry and Kiwi Fruit Pavlova
Sahel Family Rating:  *****
Serves 6-8

4 large egg whites
pinch of salt
200 g castor sugar
2.5 ml vanilla extract
5 ml white wine vinegar
7.5 ml cornflour

Preheat oven to 120°C and place rack in centre of oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 20 cm circle on the paper.

Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small cup.

Stir the cornflour into the sugar in a small bowl.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft trails start to become visible and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornflour mixture.  A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar.  Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 3 minutes.

Secure the parchment to the tray with a small blob of meringue at each corner.  Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the centre – you want a slight well in the centre of the meringue in which to place the whipped cream and fruit.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream colour.  Check on meringues at least once during the baking time.  If they appear to be taking on colour or cracking, reduce temperature 10 degrees, and turn pan around.  Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven.  (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the interior is soft and has a marshmallow-like consistency.)

Whipped cream:
250 ml whipping cream
15 ml white sugar
5 ml vanilla extract

Whip the cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  When it starts to thicken, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla, beating the cream until firm.

250 g strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered, depending on size
1 kiwi fruit, peeled, quartered and sliced

When the meringue is cool, transfer it to a serving plate.  Spread the top completely with the sweetened whipped cream.  Add the fruit, spooning it carefully into the middle of the pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue.  Serve immediately.

Adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen and various other sources


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