All sweet things are a luxury but everyone needs a bit of cake-shaped indulgence from time to time. Many treats at the top end, though, flatter to deceive—those impossibly glamorous and complicated confections that beckon from five-star bakeries are often a terrible disappointment when you actually eat them.
Pastry chefs often seem so intent on constructing the perfect nougatine tuile that they forget the flavour. Which is why, for me anyway, a well-made, but decidedly rustic-looking apple pie with perfect fruit and buttery pastry will always be preferable to a bland, oversweet, patisserie-by-numbers Tartelette Pomme Verte.
Sometimes the simplest combinations are the most inspired and delicious and today’s recipe is a great example—even if you’re terminally clumsy, pavlova always manages to taste divine and look as if you’ve just graduated from the Cordon Bleu.
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The origins of the dish are hotly disputed—no one can quite decide whether it’s from Australia or New Zealand—but it was definitely created in honour of the great ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured Down Under in the 1920s.
Whether Oz or Kiwi in origin, a perfect “pav” always consists of the made-in-heaven combination of meringue, cream and fruit. Needless to say, with such simplicity, each element has to be perfect. The meringue base has to be crisp on the outside with a soft, almost marshmallow interior. The cream has to be thick and fresh—at home in Scotland, I buy tubs of double (heavy) cream. In India the closest to this is the cream from the top of the milk which I save every day for a week if I’m going to make a pavlova. The fruit should be something that’s at its ripe best and right now the strawberries are wonderful.
Lush: The pavlova’s charm lies in its crisp meringue and creamy heart.Photo Priyanka Parashar/Mint
I couldn’t resist a slight cheffy affectation—my version has the merest hint of rosewater—but please feel free to leave it out.
Rosewater pavlova with strawberries and cream
4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour
1 tsp vinegar
1 tbsp rosewater
300ml thick (heavy) cream (preferably from the top of the milk)
400g strawberries, washed and hulled
A handful of dried rose petals, to decorate
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and draw a circle approximately 20-23cm in diameter. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. If using an electric oven with an option to turn off the upper element, do this—it will stop the top of the pavlova browning.
In a large bowl whisk the egg whites till stiff, then gradually add the sugar—in about four batches—and continue whisking until the meringue is thick, glossy and can stand up in stiff peaks. Now whisk in the cornflour, vinegar and rosewater. The cornflour helps to keep the inside of the pavlova pillowy.
Carefully spoon about three quarters of the mixture on to the parchment, then spread to fill the circle you have drawn. At this stage, you can be as meticulous or free-spirited as you like. Somehow, I think the more rustic-looking pavlovas have more charm but you could go all out and pipe stars around the edge to encase the cream and berries later. Whatever you do, make sure the sides are slightly higher than the middle.
Put the pavlova in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to about 110 degrees Celsius. Bake for about one and a half hours but keep an eye on it—if it looks like it’s starting to brown, turn the temperature down a little more.
When the pavlova is baked, turn off the heat but leave it inside the oven until cold. You could even make the meringue case the day before you need it.
Gently peel the pavlova from the parchment. Don’t worry if the meringue cracks slightly, you’ll be able to patch it up with cream. Just before serving, beat the cream until thick, then pile it on top of the meringue base, followed by the berries. Strew with rose petals for a touch of not trying-too-hard luxury—the best kind.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org