Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Happy New Year, my foodie friends! I’m afraid that I suffered with a “festive cold” over Christmas which meant that, instead of getting online and telling you how awful I was feeling, I decided to stay in bed (apart from a few misguided days when I went to work) and concentrate on getting better. Hope you don’t mind!
Despite my illness, I enjoyed my break and loved spending a whole ten days at home (proper Somerset home! Yay!) with The Boy and our families. We were given a gorgeous pasta maker by my grandmother so we’ve been mastering fresh pasta during the holidays. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make and am now on the lookout for pasta dishes to match our tender sheets.
We spent New Year ’s Eve with good friends that The Boy and I went to school with. Our evening characterised the simple yet successful entertaining equation of great company plus delicious food (divided by optional banter, multiplied by reminiscing) equals wonderful evening. I was tasked with providing a pudding and with a glut of egg whites leftover from festive baking, the choice was clear. It was pavlova time. I made mine slightly more virtuous by substituting the traditional whipped cream with half fat crème fraiche.
I find that whipped egg whites can be something of a wild card ingredient. My top tips for limiting egg white disasters? I would recommend using a painstakingly clean glass or metal bowl (rubbed with a lemon if you’re really superstitious) for whisking in and be sure that your whisk is really clean too. Separating eggs can require a steady hand too so I break the egg over a mug or bowl to catch the egg whites before transferring them individually to the mixing bowl. That way, if a yolk happens to break, it only affects one egg (keep it for scrambled eggs or a cake) rather than your whole bowl – sods law says that its always the last egg when all of the others have separated perfectly!
Peach, Pear and Almond Pavlova
Serves 6 – 8
4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar (optional)
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
1 tin of peaches in juice
200ml apple and mango (or fruit of your choosing) juice
300ml half fat crème fraiche
25g icing sugar (or to taste)
Dark chocolate to decorate (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Cover a baking sheet with grease proof paper or baking parchment.
- Whisk the egg whites until they are just stiff and form shiny peaks. Ideally you want to do this with an electric mixer but if you don’t have one, you can do it by hand.
- Gradually add the caster sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking gently but thoroughly between spoonfuls.
- Once all of the sugar has been added, continue to whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Fold in the corn flour and vinegar (if using) at this stage.
- Smooth onto the prepared baking tray (using a few blobs of meringue mixture under the parchment to keep it in place if necessary). The mixture needs to be about 4cm thick and it’s best if the outsides of your chosen shape are higher than the middle – I find the easiest way to do this is to gently smooth out the middle rather than piling up the sides. Of course, you could be fancy and pipe the meringue to make it look really pretty.
- Pop in the oven and immediately turn down to 120C. Bake for one and a half hours then leave in the oven until completely cool.
- Meanwhile, peel, core and quarter the pears. Drain the peaches, reserving the canning juice and set aside.
- Put into a saucepan and pour in enough juice (from the peaches as well as your chosen juice) to cover. Add the star anise and cinnamon. Slice open the vanilla pod lengthways (scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon and set aside) and add the empty pod to the pan.
- Poach the pears over a medium heat, keeping the pan to a gentle simmer, for around 15 minutes or until the pears are pleasantly soft. Remove from the poaching liquor and turn up the heat to reduce it to a syrup – this will take another 10 – 15 minutes or until thickened.
- Mix the crème fraiche, vanilla seeds and icing sugar. Taste and add more sugar if necessary then spoon on to the meringue base.
- Pop the almonds into a frying pan over a low heat and toast for a few minutes until slightly darker. Keep a close eye on them and don’t let them burn as they’ll become bitter.
- Arrange the fruit on top of the crème topping and intersperse with the toasted almonds. Scatter with grated chocolate to decorate. Serve drizzled with the poaching liquor syrup.