Every time we have a family dinner in London, there are two dishes which everyone eagerly anticipates. One is my aunt Khajista Phupo’s Biryani. The other is my mother’s Pavlova. No family dinner is complete without these two dishes, and there would be a collective silent sigh of disappointment if either the Biryani or the Pavlova did not make an appearance.
My mother has been making Pavlova ever since I can remember. She makes the meringue thin (no more than 2 inches thick), softly chewy on the inside with a meltingly crisp shell. Always dressed with freshly whipped cream and beautifully arranged berries and kiwifruit, it is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
As an adult, one of the first recipes I asked her for was her Pavlova. Now, if you’ve looked into making Pavlovas, you probably know that most recipes are mutli-step affairs, requiring you to beat the egg whites until they start to form soft peaks, then tediously add the sugar spoonful by spoonful, and finally followed by folding in cornstarch and vinegar (or cream of tartar).
My mother’s recipe is different and much easier. All of the ingredients are added in one step at the beginning, and the meringue turns out perfectly. Don’t get discouraged when you start whisking the ingredients. It will take a full 8 minutes before you see anything resembling peaks. I was convinced it wasn’t working when 6 minutes into whisking it all still looked like soup, but I kept with it and in a couple of more minutes it had unbelievably all pulled together.
There are all sorts of rules about how to get the most volume possible into your whisked egg whites:
- Use a ceramic, glass or metal bowl to whisk the egg whites. Never use a plastic bowl because plastic can harbor traces of grease and moisture, ensuring that your meringue will never whisk into stiff peaks. Never. Trust me, I’ve tried.
- Make sure that there is no yolk or any type of fat mixed in with the egg white, otherwise the egg whites will not whisk into fluffy clouds. The best way to separate your eggs is in a separate bowl one at at time, and then drop each egg white into the large mixing bowl.
- Use eggs which are at least 3-4 days old because they whip up to more volume than very fresh eggs.
- Use cold eggs because they separate better, but then let the separated eggs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes because room temperature egg whites results in more volume.
- Do not make meringues on a humid or rainy day because the extra moisture in the air can stop your egg whites from aerating and becoming fluffy.
The meringue can be baked the day before and stored in the oven for upto 24 hours (saving counter and fridge space). You can also store it for upto a week at room temperature in an air-tight container.
PAVLOVA WITH BERRIES AND CREAM
4 egg whites (make sure there is no yolk at all)
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract or essence
3 Tbsp boiling water (from the kettle)
2.5 cups / 600ml whipping cream
A good selection of berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. You can also use other fruit such as kiwis, passion fruit, mango, etc…)
- Preheat the oven to 210F / 100C (not fan-assisted) and place a baking rack on the lowest shelf so that the Pavlova is furthest from the source of heat.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Alternatively, line the baking tray with aluminium foil and apply a thin layer of butter and dusting of cornflour on top (as my mother always does). Set the baking tray aside.
- In a small bowl or cup, add 1 tsp cornflour and 1 tsp vinegar and mix until completely combined (there should be no lumps). Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 3 Tbsp boiling water to the cornflour-vinegar solution. Mix well until smooth. Set aside.
- In a large ceramic or metal mixing bowl, add 4 egg whites. It is crucial that there is no trace of egg yolk. The best way to separate your eggs is in a separate bowl one at at time, and then drop each egg white into the large mixing bowl.
- With an electric whisk, briefly whisk the egg whites for 10 seconds, just to get them frothy.
- Switch off the whisk and add 3/4 cup caster sugar and the cornflour-vinegar solution into the bowl with the egg whites. Whisk on medium speed for around 3 minutes and then increase to maximum speed. Whisk until the egg whites become stiff peaks. It may take another 5-8 minutes. The egg whites are ready when they form glossy stiff peaks and you can hold the bowl upside down without anything falling out.
- If you are making one large meringue, spoon the mixture in the center of your baking tray and spread it to make an even circle, approximately the height of your half your index finger. If you want to make individual meringues, use two spoons, one to scoop out the meringue mixture from the bowl and the other to push it onto the baking tray. Spread into 8 individual circles.
- Place the baking tray into the oven, close the door and leave it to bake for 90 minutes. Do not open the oven door during baking otherwise your meringue will collapse.
- After 90 minutes, switch off the oven and open the oven door for about 10 minutes to cool it down. After 10 minutes, close the oven again with the meringue still inside, and leave it until the oven is cold. This allows the meringue to cool down and dry out. Expect it to shrink slightly as well. The meringue can be left for upto 24 hours in the cold oven. You can store meringue for upto a week at room temperature in an air-tight container.
- When you are ready to dress your Pavlova, I prefer my mother’s method of flipping the pavlova over so that the base becomes the top. It not only gives a smoother surface to work on, but it also tastes better. Since the top of the pavlova is more crispy than the base, flipping it over means that the crispiest part of the meringue will be at the bottom, like a crust. The slightly softer part will then be touching the cream, making the cream melt seamlessly into the meringue when you take a bite.
- To dress the Pavlova, take your electric whisk and freshly whisk some whipping cream until it starts to form stiff peaks. Wash your fruit and cut it into bite-size pieces if necessary.
- Spread the whipped cream over the top of your meringue, and cover the cream with fruit. My mother used to arrange her fruit in intricate patterns, while I prefer to casually scatter the fruit for a more unstructured look (and much less time-consuming!)
- Refrigerate and eat within 24 hours.