Perfectly Adequate Pavlova

I’ll be honest, my goal to pull off the classic Kiwi dessert actually started out in my head as – dramatic pause –                                                                                           *** The Perfect Pavlova Mission ***

pav1Of course, Perfect Pavlova makes a far better headline than Adequate Pavlova (I have an unfortunate penchant for alliteration.) But after coming to the realisation recently that striving for perfection is a complete waste of time, have been making a conscious effort to put this mantra into practice.

Perfectionism and my tendency to over-complicate things is not only a big time waster, it’s causing me unnecessary stress, eroding my self-esteem, my sense of humor and basically doing my head in, one tiny failure at a time.

Failure is a harsh word.  Like loser.  No one strives to lose.  We go out of our way to avoid failure. Because it hurts.

And these perceived failures and shortcomings are of no consequence in the grand scheme of things.

In striving for perfectionism, I’m actually setting myself up to fail.

So those chocolate pastries I baked didn’t live up to my oh-so-high expectations – oh well, I’m no pastry chef, live and learn and do it better next time.

My hair is fly away and frizzy – But my friends and family still love me in spite of it and my dog Bonnie certainly doesn’t care.

Here’s a biggie: Sometimes I make spelling mistakes/grammatical errors at work. (These are the WORST feels.)

Amend it.  Figure out why I missed it.  Revise my editing methods. Move on.

Life is full of delicious failures, quirky flaws, laughable mistakes and awkward squirm-fests.  But if you really think about it, our fallibility is what makes us so delightfully human.  The key is perspective.

Back to the Pavlova.  The origin and technique for mastering this classic Kiwi (or Australian, depending on where you’re from) dessert is shrouded in mystery.

Regardless of where it comes from, I think we can all agree that scoffing huge drifts of this melt-in-your-mouth, sweet, soft and chewy dessert is an actual birth right for all Kiwis.  Also, its fluffy lightness won’t weigh you down: hence it’s the perfect dessert for summer and after big meals. There’s always room for pav.

I’ve attempted this elusive holy grail of Kiwi cookery several times over the past five years with dismal results ranging from delicious fiascos to inedible.  So, before we get started, here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • pav2Follow the directions, and use the exact ingredients and equipment listed. (The egg whites and sugar will not reach their essential pillowy, tacky, glossy state if you use a blender or a food processor. Trust me.)
  • As in most recipes, eggs should be room temperature and fresh as possible.
  • Pour the sugar into the egg whites S-L-O-W-L-Y.  If you dump it all in at once, it won’t work.

I used the recipe from my good old Edmonds Cook Book:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbs cornflour
imperfect circle dammit!

imperfect circle dammit!

Preheat oven to 180C.  Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and add caster sugar one tbs at a time for 10-15 minutes, or until thick and glossy.

Mix vinegar, essence and cornflour together.  Add to meringue.  Beat the shit out of it for another 5 minutes.

Line an oven tray with baking paper and draw a 22cm diameter circle on the paper.  pav5Spread the pavlova to within 2cm of the circle, keeping it as round and even and smooth as possible.

Place pav in the preheated oven and turn temperature down to 100C.  Bake for one hour, turn off the oven, open oven door slightly and leave pavlova to cool.

While it’s doing its thing, you can work on the topping.

The recipe called for fresh berries and mint to slather all over the pav, but we all know we can decorate them with whatever’s on hand, such as Laura Vincent’s Smartie Pavlova from her blog Hungry and Frozen, or Jamie Oliver’s Meringue with Pears, Cream, Toasted Hazelnuts and Chocolate Sauce.

Berries are in season at the moment, but I wanted to use the fresh apricots I’d picked up from the road side stall in Rapaura at the weekend.

So I went with a luscious citrus cream, tangy poached apricots and ginger syrup:

  • six fresh apricots, halved and stones removed
  • One inch piece of ginger, shaved
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 330ml pouring cream
  • 2-3 tbs lemon curd
  • mint leaves

pav6Bring water, sugar and ginger to boil and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add apricots and simmer for 8-10 minutes (depending on how ripe they are).

Remove the apricots, reserving the ginger syrup.  IMG_1253Once they are cool, slice each half into 3 or 4 crescents.

For the citrus cream: Beat the cream, adding 2-3 tbs lemon curd (or to taste) when it’s almost fully whipped.

IMG_1263Once the pavlova has cooled, now’s your chance to disguise any imperfections or mishaps you may have had (such as inadvertently pulling the entire outer layer off while trying to transfer it from the baking tray to a plate.) by artfully decorating it with your chosen toppings.

IMG_1268Now serve it up and eat it all! xx Hope you enjoyed.

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Pot luck dinner parties – the stress-free way to entertain

Above all else, dinner parties are my absolute favourite occasion to get together with good friends and meet new people.

Nothing (perhaps apart from a campfire) will draw people together so naturally than the anticipation of a well-cooked meal.

And the warm, convivial, relaxed vibe of potluck dinners, trump even the most well-organised, brilliantly conjured three-course masterpiece.

With minimal organisation and responsibility required of the hosts and the guests, pot lucks are a win-win.

The host’s responsibilities are reduced to providing a few pre-dinner snacks, space in the oven for warming up dishes and ensuring there are enough glasses, plates and cutlery to go around.

There’s no agonising over a suitable menu or catering for everyone’s finicky dietary requirements.  No trying to appear effortlessly organised while juggling cooking with meeting and greeting guests and pouring drinks.

While the host will certainly still be in the kitchen finding space to put everything and directing people to the utensils draw, everyone else naturally pitches in as well, removing that sometimes awkward divide as the harried cook tries to focus on a dozen tasks, and guests mill about uncertainly, feeling powerless to help.

You don’t even have to be a good cook, because everyone has a signature dish they can whip up.  I was at a pot luck a couple of years ago, where someone rocked up with pre-cut vegemite sandwiches, and in a coup de grace pulled out a bag of crunchy potato chips!   Reminiscent of shared lunches at primary school or what?

Instead of the host pulling out all the stops and spending a fortune putting on a mean spread,  the cost and the labour is shared by all.  And there are never any awkward silences at a pot luck dinner because everyone gets to take turns demonstrating their culinary prowess and explaining where they sourced the organic blueberries for their blueberry pie with the handmade pastry.

Only to be outdone at the last minute by the late arrival bearing vegemite and chip sarnies.

And once you’re all wined up, and the last guest has finally arrived, everyone eats.  Standing up, sitting down – anything goes – except for the shuffle around the table trying to find your place, only to find yourself wedged between the two biggest bores for the entire evening.

I hope I’ve made my case for pot luck dinners convincingly enough and in time for a dinner party renaissance this winter.  The first for the season is on Saturday.  I can’t wait for the rest of the invites to come pouring in.