You Can’t hurry love…

I’m not usually keen on overly sweet desserts but I do love make an exception when it comes to Pavlova. Every now and then I can’t resist them and I often find myself asking; is there really anything better than a crisp, fluffy meringue filled with whipped cream and juicy, fresh strawberries? It’s one of those classic desserts that always seem to bring a little smile to everyones faces when you bring it to the table. Originally, it is believed to have been created in honour of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s and the secret to a great Pavlova is obviously the perfect meringue.
Eton mess

In its most basic form, meringue is composed of two ingredients: egg whites and sugar. Its incredible to think that those simple ingredients are just beaten together and like magic, they slowly transform before our eyes into a brilliant white, silky smooth shape-holding state that’s pliable enough to pipe or mold into almost any shape. Meringues do have the reputation of being difficult to make, but actually, as long as you follow a few basic rules, they're as easy as pie.

A proper meringue is a beautiful thing and the first golden golden rule of making them is that all of your equipment must be scrupulously clean, without a speck of grease, or it will be much more difficult to produce the desired foam with your ingredients. I normally like to rub my mixing bowl with half a lemon before beginning, to eliminate any last specks of fat and I also like to add a couple of drops of lemon juice after the sugar  as according to Larousse Gastronomique, this helps to make the meringue "crisp on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside".

Fine, confectioners sugar is the usual option for meringues as the small grains dissolve easily in the foamy mixture. Some recipes take this a step further, by using half fine and half icing sugar, which is, of course, even finer. The resulting meringues are slightly lighter.  Here in Spain, its difficult to find superfine sugar but you can easily make your own by blitzing the sugar in a food processor for thirty seconds. This step is not absolutely necessary, but will help prevent any grittiness in your meringue. 

Finally, take care when cooking a meringue. The truth is you don't actually “cook” meringues so much as dry them out, evaporating the water to leave only the rigid structure of the egg and sugar mix, and the air bubbles in between. Turn your turning to the coolest setting and if you suspect your oven is too hot, wedge the oven door slightly open with a rolled-up tea towel to prevent it overheating and leaving the meringues to it. They're too good to hurry.

You can make one large pavlova or these really cute individuals ones!

Ingredients            serves 6

250g mixed red fruits (strawberries (sliced), raspberries, redcurrants etc)

Basic Meringue mix:
3 large organic egg whites
180g sugar
3 drops of lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)

In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites and lemon until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Gradually add the sugar, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick and glossy.
Turn on your oven to its lowest setting around 110ºC.
Spoon the meringue mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm nozzle.
Pipe out six 8cm circles of meringue on a lined baking tray and pipe a ring around each circle to form a small basket. If you don’t have a piping bag, use the back of a metal spoon to press the centre of each meringue down, making a shallow hollow and creating a ‘nest effect’.

 Place in the oven and bake for at least 2-3 hours. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the oven to crisp up. Carefully lift the meringues off the baking paper and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Passion fruit Cream
5 passion fruits
150ml orange juice
250g mascarpone
150ml crème fraîche
200ml whipping cream
1 vanilla pod, split
75g icing sugar

To make the Passion fruit Cream;
Halve the passion fruits and scoop out the juice and seeds in a small saucepan. Add the orange juice, vanilla pod and bring to boil. Reduce by half to concentrate the flavour.

Beat the mascarpone and sugar with the crème fraìche. Sieve the passion fruit juice and add beat into the mascarpone mixture.  Whip the cream and fold into the passion fruit cream.

To serve;
Fill the meringue baskets with the passion fruit pastry cream and top with mixed red fruits. Dust with icing sugar, garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately.

Another firm favourite of mine is another old English classic called “Eton Mess”. There is something unashamedly wicked about this dessert. It consists of a mixture of fresh strawberries, pieces of crisp meringue and lightly whipped cream all stirred together-hence the name “mess”. The dish has been known by this name since the 19th century and was served in the 1930s in the Eton College.

Ingredients            serves 4

1x basic meringue mix
800g strawberries, washed & hulled
1tbsp icing sugar
500ml cream

Place large spoonfuls of meringue mix onto a lined baking tray.
Place in the oven and bake for at least 2-3 hours. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the oven to crisp up. Carefully lift the meringues off the baking paper and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cut 500g of the strawberries in half and add the icing sugar. Chill for 30 minutes. Puree the rest of the strawberries in a hand blender to make a puree.

In a clean bowl, whisk the cream until stiff peaks form, then roughly break the meringues into bite-sized pieces and gently mix them with the whipped cream. Add the strawberries and pile into glass bowls. Drizzle with strawberry puree and serve immediately.