Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peach Pavlova

If not for my recent foray into tempera painting, which required me to separate some eggs and pierce their yolks to drain only the runny part for my medium, I would never have subjected myself to the pain of whisking egg whites to stiff peaks by hand. My arm is aching even as I type this. But I hate to let any food go to waste. And the result--a pillowy-inside, crispy-outside meringue that, when topped with whipped cream and fruit, is called Pavlova after the ballerina--is worth the effort, especially if you have some egg whites lying around that would otherwise just get thrown away.
I first made a Pavlova a few years ago, after reading about it in one of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks. It's one of the recipes she repeats in every book in some variation, like pomegranates to be Christmasy (she calls it Massacre in a Snowstorm, which I find hilarious!) or passionfruit to be summery. I have all her books, but I don't have them with me in Japan, so when I want to make one of her recipes I'm forced to turn to the internet. The Pavlova I made today is based on the recipe here.

I only had four egg whites after making my tempera medium, so I halved the recipe. After whisking the whites to soft peaks, I added a cup of fine sugar one spoonful at a time, whisking in between. The meringue became thick and shiny as I did so, always a gratifying visual transformation and quite encouraging when your arm is simultaneously becoming sorer and sorer. When the sugar was in, I sprinkled a spoonful of flour (I didn't have any cornstarch), a little vanilla, and about a teaspoon of vinegar over the top and stirred it all together with a spoon. I wasn't particular about measurements, other than my measuring cup of sugar, and used just an ordinary cereal spoon to eyeball everything. After spooning the meringue onto a paper circle cut from a shopping bag, I put it in my convection oven at 180C for one minute (the oven doesn't preheat the way a full-sized oven does) and then at 120C for an hour. After baking, I left it in the oven with the door shut until after dinner, about two more hours.

The top wrinkled a bit as it cooled, which usually happens when I make anything meringue. Possibly this is because I don't get enough air in them when whisking, or perhaps because my oven is too cool. Despite its less than perfect appearance, however, the texture was just right - crunchy on top, marshmallowy inside. I know it's the luscious combination of cream and meringue that makes a Pavlova a Pavlova, but to be honest, I wasn't up for any more whisking, so I skipped the whipped cream. But with just a juicy peach and a few blackberries on top, it was not bad at all. Especially considering it was a mere by-product of paint production.

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