Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Greed, Inadequacy... And A Recipe For One Mad, Bad Chocolate Pavlova

A lone blueberry flops to the left of the pavlova, a criminal fleeing the scene.  The raspberries are studded unevenly across the surface.  Some are huddled together like hostages, while others lie solitary and stranded, lost and away from the herd. The strawberries are leaking their dark balsamic syrup, sullying the white skirts of cream with rusty drips.

As I poke another errant blueberry into the Sorry Heap it dawns on me that I possess the plating skills of a toddler drunk on laudanum.

Plating is like sex.  If you think about it too hard, too much, or generally obsess about it, it's probably going to be awful.  Or perhaps I've just conjured up this platitude to comfort myself;  the correct placement of fruit eludes me so thoroughly and I am very, very bad at it.  Either way the facts are unassailable - I cannot make food look pretty.

Food blogging and food photography are presented as two sides of the many-Googled coin - common parlance states that you cannot have one without the other.  "Pics or it didn't happen", isn't that what the hip kids say?

Well, sod it.  Some food demands to be ravished immediately - camera be damned.  The Sorry Heap does not look attractive (at least when presented by my fumbling self) but I tell you, it tastes like divinity incarnate and inspires an unholy greed.

The Heap in question is a chocolate pavlova laden with double cream and piled ambitiously with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.  It's dark cracking richness is offset by the cream's fulsomeness.  The raspberries are tart and sharp, contrasting their velvety pillowness.  The blueberries shudder, then give with a satisfying pop-snap when bitten and the strawberries have turned into jujubes of sour sweetness due to a balsamic/sugar maceration.

I eat plate after plate, standing at the kitchen bench, surrounded by half-filled, mostly pillaged plastic punnets of berries.  The pot of cream still sits there, a section of it's torn lid still hanging on, a spoon sticking out the top.

Pieces of chocolate inside the meringue meld brusquely between my teeth then into the berries and smooth cream, providing another texture which surprises.  I cannot stop eating and I cannot stop this feeling of wonder and wildness and my hands are messy with crumbs and there is cream on my elbow and on my cheek and the juices from the strawberries have run down the backs of my hands and I do not care for presentation, do not care for sight, as taste and texture and sweetness and light all flood my mouth as memories of this are created and cherished and are born anew, gasping, alive.

Chocolate Berry Pavlova - adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Forever Summer'
(Serves 8-10)

ingredients for chocolate meringue base:
  • 6 egg whites*
  • 300g castor sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 50g roughly chopped dark chocolate or the smallest dark chocolate baking buttons you can find

ingredients for topping:
  • 500ml double cream
  • 200g raspberries
  • 100g blueberries
  • 200g strawberries, quartered if large (you want all the fruit to be roughly the same size)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 scant teaspoon castor sugar

making the chocolate meringue base:
  1. Grab a bowl and toss the strawberries with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon castor sugar.  Cover with clingwrap and pop in the fridge. 
  2. Preheat your oven to 180°C.  Line a flat baking tray with baking paper.
  3. Now, get a large bowl and ensure it is absolutely, spotlessly grease-free* - this is what you'll whip the egg whites in.  Use electric beaters or a stand mixer - don't bother with a hand whisk because your muscles will complain (unless you're Thor, with forearms the size of Christmas hams).
  4. Beat the whites until soft, glossy peaks form, then beat in the castor sugar gradually.  Keep beating until the meringue is stiff and shiny - peaks should point up with only the slightest hint of collapse at the tips.  Stop beating. 
  5. Sprinkle on cocoa powder, then add red wine vinegar and chocolate - gently fold them into the meringue until just incorporated.  The idea is to avoid deflating the egg whites.
  6. Mound meringue mixture on top of baking paper in a large circular blob, about 20-23 centimetres across (about the size of a large dinner plate).  Roughly flatten out the top and sides.
  7. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 150°C.  Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes.  
  8. The meringue is ready when it looks crisp and dry, both around the edges and on top.  It will be the colour of a pale, milky hot chocolate.  
  9. Do not be alarmed by a few cracks, and please resist all temptation to open the oven door.  You don't want your efforts to deflate! 
  10. Once time is up, turn off the oven and open the door slightly.  Leave the cooked meringue in the oven to cool completely*.  It may still be slightly soft in the middle on the underside, giving you a hint of the glorious dark choclate-y squishiness within.  This is A Good Thing.  
  1. Once cooled and you're ready to serve, invert the meringue onto a large, flat plate.  
  2. Drain the strawberries from the balsamic syrup until you're left with a small heap of glistening ruby fruit.  Set aside.
  3. Spread the meringue with cream, then pile all the berries (including the drained strawberries) on top in whatever organised or haphazard manner you wish.  

You now have a glorious Chocolate Berry Pavlova.  Cackle madly whilst steepling your fingers.  If you have a white cat handy, now is the time to stroke it like a Bond villain.  Excellent.

Serve to your grateful minions, who will fall upon it like wolves tearing apart prey.  This recipe will serve 8-10 people, but the chances of them wanting seconds is high.

- You'll have 6 egg yolks remaining after making this recipe.  They may be saved by freezing: Break the yolks, then add 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Stir gently.  I like to divide the yolk mixture into thirds, then freeze in small containers so that each container contains roughly 2 yolks.  The reason why all this palaver is necessary is because yolks turn into hard gelatinous balls when frozen without salt.  Or you could simply make a crème caramel...      
- Grease is the enemy of egg whites.  Wet some kitchen paper with white vinegar, then wipe down the inside of your mixing bowl.  You may also wish to give your beaters a quick rinse with vinegar too.
- The meringue base may be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for a few days.  This is useful if you, like me, find meringue-making a slightly fraught process and need a day or two to recover.

No comments:

Post a Comment