Pavlova has been the desert of choice in our family home for almost every occasion that I remember.
For summer birthdays it is filled with freshly-whipped cream and mounds of glorious red berries, for Christmas, as a late evening dessert, it is usually topped with whipped chocolate cream, and for Easter lunch, the hollow in the meringue gets turned into a nest, holding a bundle of speckled chocolate birds eggs.
Whatever the occasion, it always impresses and inevitably gets eaten very quickly.
The perfect pavlova in my mind is one with a golden crisp crust and a soft marshmallow-like centre.
There are a few tricks to getting the centre of your pavlova soft white and fluffy.
The vinegar is an important ingredient as it helps create a soft, chewier texture.
The acid in the vinegar partly breaking up the proteins, and stabilises the whisked egg whites which helps them to hold in all.
Another trick is to be very careful while cracking the eggs.
If any of yolk gets into the whites they will never whip up to their utmost stiff peaks, no matter how much effort you put in.
The fat content in the yolk will prevent the air getting into the whites.
Wiping your bowl with a little extra vinegar is also advisable, especially if you have used it for butter in the recent past.
Butter, even a small trace, will have the same effect as the egg yolk.
The consistency makes the pavlova significantly more fragile than a harder more traditional meringue.
For easier removal from the tray after baking I cut a square of parchment in half and lay the two pieces onto the baking tray, then scoop the whipped meringue onto it.
This allows you to gently slide the cake, paper and all onto a serving dish.
You can then gently pull the paper from either side and it will come away far more neatly and easily than one whole large sheet.
The salted caramel sauce can be used to drizzled over the pavlova or stored in a jar to be used with ice cream, or on a banana split.
It is also nice served alongside a strong espresso.
I have included two savoury, midweek recipes that do not have much in common with a pavlova but they will help to use up any leftover cream you may have.
I particularly like the combination of mustard cream and thyme.
SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
6 egg whites, at room temperature
2 pinches of salt
310g of caster sugar
2 tsp of cornflour
2 tsp of white malt vinegar
Heat your oven to 130C or 266F.
Put egg whites and salt into a very clean mixing bowl. Whisk lightly until the colour begins to change.
Add half the caster sugar and whisk until stiff.
Turn the speed on the mixer down and add the rest of the sugar a tablespoon at a time.
Add corn flour and beat, add vinegar and beat.
Cut a square of parchment to fit your baking tray then cut this in two. Lightly grease.
Scoop mixture on to parchment and make an indentation in the centre and swirl the edges.
Cook in a heated oven for 15 minutes at 130C or 266F.
Then reduce the heat to 120C or 248F. Cook for one-and-a-half to two hours depending on your oven.
Watch carefully so it does not get too brown (if you have a glass door) but do not open the oven.
When the meringue is done it should slide off the baking tray onto a plate.
You can then pull the paper gently out from underneath on both sides. Because it is cut in two it should pull away easier.
You can make three smaller cakes and fill between each layer with cream and drizzle with the caramel sauce recipe above.
I also add a selection of toasted almonds and hazelnuts to add a bit of bite and their bitter note counteracts some of the sweetness.
It can be used as a dairy free desert as long as you do not fill it with the cream.
250g of caster sugar
4 tbs of water
140 mls of cream
½ tsp of sea salt
50g of butter
Put the caster sugar and water into a large heavy saucepan, stir and allow the sugar to melt.
Turn up the heat and allow it to bubble until it turns golden.
Stir in the cream, butter and salt.
Pour into a sterilised jar with a lid.
QUICK MID-WEEK MEALS
Rice for four
50g of whole grain mustard
4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
A bunch of thyme, removed from the stalk and chopped
2 tsp of dijon mustard
1 tbsp of soft butter
4 chicken breasts
50g of breadcrumbs
Zest of a lemon
3 tbsp of cream
Put the rice on to boil in lightly salted water and drain when cooked.
Mix the whole grain mustard, garlic, thyme and dijon mustard until well combined.
Set aside a tablespoon of the mixture and mash the rest through the butter.
Rub the chicken with the butter coating completely.
Lay the chicken in an oven proof dish and place into the oven at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes or until cooked through.
Mix the tablespoon of the mustard mix that was set aside with the lemon zest and cream.
Add it to the dish and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through. Taste and season.
Serve with the rice on the side.
You can serve a green salad on the side as well if you wish.
1½ kg of mussels
a dash of rapeseed oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp of crushed pink peppercorns
the zest of 2 lemons
a large handful of parsley, finely chopped
50 mls of white wine
50 mls of cream
crusty bread for four
Wash the mussels well and remove the fibers that are on the shell.
If any are open and do not close with a gentle tap on the kitchen counter, throw them away.
Put the mussels into the fridge until you are ready for them.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a lid and gently sauté the garlic and shallots.
Add the pink peppercorns, half of the parsley and the white wine.
Allow to come to a boil and add the mussels. Put the lid on the pot and steam for four minutes.
Add the cream and the rest of the parsley.
Taste the sauce and season, you may just need some black pepper not salt.
If any of the mussels have not opened during cooking discard them.
Spoon into bowls and serve with the bread on the side.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved