Sundays are the best time for having a luxurious dessert. I never ate much pavlova growing up - it's not really a popular dessert in Canada - but once I moved to Ireland, I could instantly appreciate it as the popular treat it is. Light, creamy, not too sweet - the perfect vessel for ripe, in-season Irish strawberries. There is really no better end to a meal on a sunny summer's day.
Meringue is tricky for many and I know a lot of people are afraid to try making it. I find you really need to know your oven to make the perfect pavlova. Every time I use an unfamiliar oven, I really need to keep an eye on it to avoid it turning brown as it bakes. Here are a few meringue-making tips I've accrued over the years:Measure out the egg whites! Instead of using “4 egg whites,” actually measure out 150ml of egg whites, since eggs are all different sizes.Meringue hates fat. They are mortal enemies. If there's fat residue on the inside of your bowl, the meringue won't whip. If you get even a speck of egg yolk in the egg whites, make yourself some eggs for lunch and start the meringue again.Getting a thick, glossy meringue takes time. Use a stand mixer (or hand mixer) and add your sugar in one tablespoon at a time. After at least ten minutes, you should have the desired consistency.Low and slow is the best way to bake a meringue. I usually keep my oven at an extremely low temperature and bake the meringue for at least two hours. Moisture is not your friend; you want the meringue to dry out completely in the oven before you take it out. I usually start my meringue at night and then leave it in the oven to cool until morning.
Strawberry and milk chocolate pavlova
For the pavlova:
150ml egg whites (about 4 large eggs' worth), at room temperature
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ lemon, for wiping the bowl (and acts as a stabilizer for the egg whites)
150g icing sugar
For the cream:
250ml double cream
60ml Irish Cream (or Kahlua, optional)
1 tsp good-quality vanilla, or one vanilla bean, scraped
2 tbsp icing sugar
450g fresh strawberries (halved - any smaller berries can be kept whole)
Good-quality milk chocolate (I used some Flake chocolate bars, but you can roughly chop your favourite milk chocolate)
Fresh mint, for garnish
Directions:Preheat the oven to 100°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.Take the half lemon and generously wipe a large mixing bowl (if you’re using a hand mixer, use a glass or stainless steel bowl). Leave the lemon residue on the bowl as the acid will help stabilize your meringue.Add the room-temperature egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl and fit your stand/hand mixer with the whisk attachment. Put the confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl with a spoon and keep next to the area where you will be working.Start mixing the egg whites/cream of tartar on medium-high until soft peaks begin to form. Then, slowly, add a heaping spoonful of confectioner’s sugar at a time while whisking. When all the confectioner’s sugar is added to the egg white mixture, increase the mixer to high speed and whisk until the egg whites are glossy, thick and forming very stiff peaks (around 10 minutes).When the meringue is ready, dollop the whole mess on to the prepared baking sheet and form (as neatly or rustically as you like) into a rough circle with high sides and a fairly large cavity in the middle. You can pipe the meringue, if you like.Place the baking sheet directly on the centre rack in the preheated oven.Bake the meringue for two hours, or until the outside feels dry and firm. Turn off the oven and keep the oven door closed. Allow the meringue to cool completely (up to two hours or more) before opening the oven door.Prepare the cream: in the bowl of your stand mixer, add the double cream, Irish cream (if using) and vanilla. Whisk until the cream starts to thicken, then add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue whisking until medium-soft peaks form (you want them to hold their shape, but you don’t want the cream to be too stiff).Dollop the cream into the cavity of the cooled meringue, then arrange the strawberries, chocolate and mint over the top. Once the toppings are added, serve it as soon as possible. The meringue on its own will keep in an airtight container for two to three days.