Sounds decadent, doesn’t it? It’s made out of free range eggs, so it’s got to be healthy, right? This is not a dessert you’d make for every day but it’s a stunning finale for a light dinner party meal. Because it’s made out of meringue, you might think it’s a light dessert too, but don’t let it fool you. There’s lots of yummy cream on it.
There’s a story behind this dessert. When I first moved to Australia we had what I lovingly refer to as “the first parental visit” to our home for dinner. I’m a pretty good cook and I wasn’t the least bit concerned but my darling husband was fretting. He wasn’t fretting in a big way but I could tell he wanted this to go well. He’s the baby of the family and has always been a bit spoiled.
He wanted his parents to like me and I am American – you know, of those gum chewing Americans you see on TV. I’m not kidding. All Americans live in big cities and they chew gum — that was my inlaws’ impression of me before they ever met me. I have no idea where the gum chewing came from, but I suspect it was on TV. I laughed it off and said, “Look, all they have to do is meet me and they’ll like me, I promise.”
Him: What are you serving for dinner?
Me: Oh.. maybe the pork fillet with apple onion marmalade (it was my fave at the time)
Him: You don’t know what you’re cooking yet??
Me: No, why? It’s just dinner for God’s sake.
Him: You haven’t met my mother, it’s never just dinner.
Me: I should expect the inquisition?
Him: Not that bad but you’ll be judged by what you serve and how you serve it.
Me: Then it’s their problem not mine.
Him: Oh right, I can see a disaster looming. Seriously, what ARE you going to cook?
Me: Ok, I’ll make the pork and I’ll serve a pavlova for dessert
Him: Have you ever made a pavlova? That’s a pretty Australian dessert. It took my mother years to perfect hers. You can’t serve a dessert you’ve never tried, especially to my mother!
Me: It’s a dessert. I can read a freakin recipe. Will you calm down?
Him: Can you make a cheese platter up just in case the pav doesn’t work out? Can you do it for me?
Me: (while rolling my eyes out of my head) Yes, dear, I can do that for you. Stop fretting. They will like me. I’m a likeable person. You like me, don’t you?
And that’s how it went. Pavlova is a dessert created for the famous Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova during one of her visits to Australia (or New Zealand – both countries claim the dessert as theirs). It’s similar to a cake but made out of meringue. Dry on the outside by soft, moist and delicious on the inside. Think lemon meringue pie without the lemon or the crust. It’s topped with heaps of whipped cream and on top of the cream are berries or other fruit and on top of that, drizzled passionfruit pulp. It’s easy to love what we lovingly refer to as a “pav”.
I decided I’d “Americanize” the pavlova (notice I didn’t type Americanise – it still doesn’t seem normal even after all these years) and instead of the standard whipped cream, berries and passionfruit, I’d make chocolate whipped cream and add chopped roasted hazelnuts. Oh, and I’d make it two layers. You don’t want to hear what he had to say about that!
There are several schools of thought about how to make a pavlova and everyone has a different idea. When I first looked up how to make a pav all those years ago I found a recipe that said, “keep it simple” and I’ve done that every time. Some recipes call for vanilla, cornstarch (cornflour) or vinegar – I’ve never used anything but egg whites and sugar and mine come out yummy every time.
Then I whip cream and add chocolate syrup. How much? Until it looks chocolatey. I need to be better at developing recipes. I’m pretty good at the creating but I’m not so good at the writing down what I did bit. I change something every time. It’s not a good look when you’re telling people how to make something to say, “add syrup until it looks chocolatey.”
When the layers are cool I spread the whipped cream on the bottom layer, sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts over the cream and drizzle some chocolate syrup over it. Then it gets a bit tricky. You have to pick up the top layer of pavlova and rip the baking paper off and set it down on top of the cream without breaking the delicate pavlova in the process. If you are careful it works just fine, just don’t toss it around like a bowling ball because it’s quite fragile.
Once the 2nd layer is in place, I put the rest of the cream on top and finish with the rest of the chopped hazelnuts and drizzle with the chocolate syrup and it’s a beautiful dessert.
Now for the rest of the inlaws story. My dessert looked just like this but I put it in the fridge behind something hoping hubs would forget and he did. The parentals arrived, we had a lovely dinner and I brought out the dessert. MIL was duly impressed and did the oohing and ahhing. I served his mother, his father and me pieces of pavlova. I brought John a plate of cheese and crackers and said, “I told you I could read,” and told his mother the story. There was much laughter and my dear husband had two pieces of pavlova and sat there beaming.
Don’t be afraid of trying this recipe or any recipe. Cooking is never a contest — it’s about sharing food with family and friends. This is a sweet dessert so you don’t need a very big piece.
Here’s the recipe!
- 6 egg whites
- 12 oz (175 grams) castor or superfine sugar
- 16 oz (500 ml) whipping cream
- 5 squirts chocolate syrup (Hersheys works fine)
- ¼ cup hazelnuts
- Pre-heat the oven to 300°F or 150°C
- Prepare two baking sheets with baking paper and on the bottom side of the paper trace a circle the size of the cake you want to make. I trace a salad plate because it fits exactly into my serving plate. You'll know what size you want.
- Measure out the sugar
- Place the egg whites in a large clean mixing bowl with whisk attachment (or regular mixer beaters or wire whisk)
- Whisk until soft peaks form but don't over beat. You want them firm but not dry.
- Keep beating and add the sugar just a little at a time. The goal is to incorporate the sugar so that it dissolves into the egg whites.
- Keep beating until you can rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers and it doesn't feel gritty.
- Divide the meringue mixture between the two baking sheets and with the back of a large metal spoon, shape the meringue into two cake shaped layers.
- To maintain a strong side, take the back of your spoon and make swirls from the bottom up the side to make gentle ridges. Smooth the top of the layer.
- Place in the oven and immediately lower the temperatur to 275°F or 140°C and bake for one hour.
- Turn the heat off and leave the pavlova in the oven til it's cool.
- Place cream in a mixing bowl and whip to soft peak.
- Add chocolate syrup until it tastes right for you. I used 5 squirts but it all depends on how hard you squirt. Mix and taste til you're happy.
- Roasting the nuts isn't mandatory, it just makes the nuts taste better.
- Place hazelnuts in a baking pan and place in a 325°F oven for about 7 minutes and shake the pan every few minutes for even roasting
- Once they are cool enough to handle place in a kitchen towel and rub the nuts together til the papery skin falls off. (it will ruin the towel, be prepared) A small amount of skin left on is normal.
- Chop the nuts so there's a few larger pieces - don't make dust.
- When your pavlovas are cool, remove the baking paper off one layer and place it on your serving plate.
- Place half of the whipped cream on the top coming to within an inch of the edge. The top layer will squeeze the cream to the edge.
- Sprinkle ½ of the chopped hazelnuts on top of the cream and drizzle with chocolate syrup.
- Remove the baking paper from the 2nd layer and place the layer on top of the first.
- Repeat the cream, hazelnuts and chocolate.