Summer is almost here - strawberries have appeared again, hurrah! - and barbeque season is upon us. It's been a stunner of a week in Wellington - I even have the slightly patchy, fail-at-applying-suncream first sunburn of the season to prove it. Friends of ours were having a barbeque/housewarming party tonight, though, so of course the weather turned and being outside wasn't so pleasant. Ah, Wellington...
Anyway, we were trying to figure out some scrummy things to bring along - I'm not the hugest fan of charcoal-coated sausages so wanted to be a bit creative. Our hosts are vegetarian so we thought we could run with that theme, and made some felafel (which was yummy and I'll write about tomorrow), but of course I couldn't go to a party without some sort of sugar-infested dessert. ;-)
I have some muscovado sugar to try out and had been thinking brown sugar pavlova sounded pretty yummy - pavlova is great on its own but you can do a surprising number of things to change it up and sometimes a little variation is nice.
I found a promising looking recipe on Not Quite Nigella, though I altered it a little for my purposes. I decided to make a big one, since I knew there'd be quite a few people at the party and there's nothing worse than 30 people clamouring to get a bit of one tiny pav! ;-) Since I was separating so many eggs I used the three bowl method - sometimes I take the risk of separating straight into the mixing bowl but it's not worth the risk if you're doing lots of them.
The brown sugar pavlova is pretty similar to a regular one - it just trades out some of the caster sugar for, wait for it, brown sugar - in my case muscovado. You start by beating the egg whites to soft peaks...
Then add the caster sugar and beat until thick and glossy. I love how the mixture looks at this stage - pillowy and shiny and you just can't help dipping a finger in to taste test, can you? ;-)
Next on the ingredient list is the brown sugar - I recommend you thoroughly crumble this in your hands to break up any lumps before adding it; as you can see above, mine has the odd lump in it and these were pretty hard to beat into the mixture.
When it gets all silky smooth again, but this time with a caramelly colour, add the vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, which is great stuff but vanilla essence will be fine if you don't have it), cornflour and vinegar, and quickly beat through to combine. It really is quite the challenge not to eat this stuff straight out of the bowl. ;-)
I wanted to make thin, chewy pavs - it seemed to fit with the brown sugar - so I went for a layered presentation - you could also make individual pavlovas, or pile the mixture higher to make one tall one, or even just make one large flat one instead of splitting the mixture in two - but this did look pretty cool. ;-)
Oven temperature and the cooking phase in general is always the trickiest bit of making a good pavlova. Generally you want a pretty low oven temperature - for this recipe I'm recommending 120 C - and to cook it sloooowly and then cool it down even more sloooooooooooooooowly. That means that when it seems cooked - that is, the outside has formed a nice crust and isn't squidgy - you turn the oven off and leave it in there for ages, preferably overnight (but do notify other possible oven users - as I've detailed before not doing so can have potentially devastating results), until it's completely cooled. This allows the structure of the inner to firm up before all the air escapes, and hence should stop it collapsing (although making a pavlova without experiencing some cracking seems to be nigh on impossible, and the odd crack doesn't matter in the slightest when you do what I'm about to do anyway).
Another point worth mentioning is that even though it's considered bad form to open the door on a cooking pavlova, if you are cooking two trays and your oven doesn't have fan bake, or you know it's not very consistent with temperature, it's wise to switch the trays over halfway through. You might suffer an extra crack or two but that's nothing compared with the pain of discovering that one of your pavlovas is only half cooked!
When you're almost ready to assemble it, chop up the strawberries (being sure to pop a few in your mouth on the way, they are soooooo good) and pop them in a bowl with a little brown sugar. They'll get all soft and sweet and extra fabulous.
Whip up the cream, and put it all together... Yummm.
I was pretty pleased with how this turned out - it looked pretty luscious (I got some envious glances carrying it out of the apartment building) and the meringue layers were denser than usual - what I was going for - and a little chewy, without losing that pillowy pav magic. And strawberries - well, is there anything better? I seriously love those things - they've only been around for a couple of weeks and we've already gone through quite a few punnets. I love that (until you add them to a sugary pavlova with piles of cream) they're actually pretty healthy treats - they're mostly water, not too high in sugar, so fairly guilt-free. Surely that balances out the rest of this dessert? ;-)
What's your favourite summer fruit - are you a strawberry addict like me or are you hanging out for something else?
Brown Sugar Pavlova (adapted from Not Quite Nigella)
4 egg whites
150g caster sugar
70g brown sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, additional
1 punnet of strawberries
Preheat oven to 120 C, preferably fan bake. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.
Beat until soft peaks form, then add caster sugar gradually and beat until firm peaks form and mixture is thick and glossy.
Add brown sugar (make sure to break up any lumps), then beat until glossy. Fold in sifted cornflour, vinegar, and vanilla bean paste.
Scoop half the mixture onto each baking sheet. Spread out in roughly even circles, about 3-4cm thick. Bake for 40 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow to cool completely before removing.
When pavlovas are cool, hull and quarter the strawberries and combine in a bowl with two tablespoons of muscovado sugar. Whip the cream with the extra vanilla bean paste until it's thick but still quite smooth.
Place one of the pavlovas on your serving plate and spread half of the cream over it. Lay some strawberry quarters over the cream at intervals. Top with the second pavlova and spread the remaining cream over it. Chill until ready to serve; when about to serve, pile the remaining strawberries on top. Serves 6.