I am reminding myself that it is still summer.
Last night, just before bed, I went outside to put away the toys left in the garden and lock up the garage. It was a clear, starry night and there was a faintly woody smell and quite a distinct nip in the air and I thought, hmm, autumn is coming. Not now, not tomorrow, but it's on it's way. The garden is starting to take on a slightly faded, frazzled look as though colour is beginning to fade from the leaves and it all looks less lush than it did a month ago.
Now, I love autumn, I really do, it's by far and away my favourite season. But summer (which, this year, has been pretty fantastic) is not over yet and so let's talk about pavlova.
I do think of pavlova as a summery desert (although there is no reason why it should be) mainly because it's a wonderful way to show of fresh soft fruits and just let them shine in all their seasonal glory, rather than cooking them or mixing them with other things. It is perfect in it's simplicity; meringue, cream, fruit. Nothing else is needed, except maybe a spoon. It's also a handy recipe for when you're cooking for people as the meringue can be made up to one day in advance then you just need to whip the cream and assemble it when you're ready to serve.
My meringue recipe was copied out and given to me by my mum when I left home and I still have that same, splattered piece of paper tucked into my recipes folder. It's a keeper. It makes the most perfect meringue as the centre remains soft and marshmallowy, not dry and crispy like shop-bought meringue. I like my meringues soft and chewy, almost gooey, inside.
You will need:
4 egg whites.
8 oz or 225 grams sugar. (I use white sugar - golden or unrefined sugar will give you a darker, creamier coloured meringue and a toffee flavour.)
2 tsps cornflour.
1 tsp vinegar.
1 tsp vanilla extract.
½ pint or 300 ml whipping or double cream.
Lots of fresh fruit. I used around 14 oz/ 400 grams of strawberries, hulled and halved here but use whatever is in season or to hand. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries will look and taste glorious together.
Preheat your oven to 120°C (100°C fan) or 250°F.
Separate your eggs taking care that not even the tiniest bit of yolk gets into your whites. (A very good tip my mum wrote down is to separate each egg into a cup or small bowl first then transfer to the big mixing bowl, to prevent that little bit of yolk writing off the whole recipe and causing you to start again.)
Whisk your egg whites until stiff - either in a mixer or with a hand-held electric whisk. This should take around 1 minute.
Add the sugar very gradually, a tablesoon at a time, whisking steadily throughout. If you add all the sugar at once it will knock all that precious air out of the egg whites.
Beat again for another couple of minute until it looks glossy and shiny. Turn the mixer down and, while beating slowly, add the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla. Beat again thoroughly.
Your meringe mixture should be quite firm now, so that you could form peaks in it. If you were to hold the bowl over your head, none would fall from the bowl. I did actually make John take a photo of me doing just this for illustrative purposes but thankfully sanity (and vanity - hello bingo wings!) prevailed and I deleted it.
Line a baking sheet with greaseproof/baking paper. A little meringue mixture in each corner will help the paper stay in place. Dollop the mixture onto the paper and form into a rough circle. I like to mound mine up around the edge and create a well in the centre for the cream, others like theirs to be perfectly smooth and straight - it's up to you.
Bake for two hours. When the oven timer beeps, turn off the oven and, ideally, leave the meringue inside until the oven is cold - this will help it cool slowly and prevent cracks.
When it's cool, peel of the paper and slide it onto a plate. Whip up your cream and pile it into the centre of the meringue.
Pile up your fruit on top of the cream.
This photo is not great but it does show off the soft and gooey centre of the meringue. It's not an easy desert to slice and present elegantly, but it makes up for this in flavour and texture.
This should feed six or eight and you'll need to eat it fairly quickly, within 24 hours I'd say, or else the combination of soft meringue, cream and fruit will create a soggy mess.