When I was home in QLD last year, staying at my Dad’s, the old man who lives next door brought us over half a Pavlova and a cup of whipped cream. This old guy does all the cooking, his wife has dementia and he cares for her in a way that I hope someone will care for me when I’m old and unable to make my own Pavlovas anymore. She sits in the backyard with the mango and citrus trees, and the neatly mown lawn and stares into her hands. He cooks and bakes and as the sun goes down, leads her into the house by the hand. Sarah you promise to make me Pavlova forever? I love that he still made a whole Pavlova even though they couldn’t possibly eat it all. I love that he brought half over to my Dad and I, undressed (if you can say that about a cake – it was definitely white and naked) so that it wouldn’t go soggy if we didn’t want to eat it right away.
There are so many myths about making Pavlova, and the only purpose they serve, we think, is in terrifying people into never attempting what is really very easy, especially if you make it the way Sarah does. And especially if you have a pretty 1950s Kenwood Mixmaster like we do. Of course it doesn’t have to be pretty or from the 1950s – we call him Kenny – but it certainly helps get you in the vibe to make something so kitsch as a Pavlova. Putting on an apron might help as well. But it is best if you have some sort of Mixmaster because then you can leave it be as it whisks the egg whites, which takes a little while.
Most people worry about their Pavlova falling – this is where the myths come in, a friend told me that their mum always taped the oven shut to stop them opening the door as kids, the Pavlova must cool with the oven! But with this recipe there is really no fear of them falling, because they’re small – and even if they fall you can cover the fall with cream and fruit. If they’re malformed or wonky they’re small enough to look like they’re meant to be like that. They’re not too small though, they’ll still have that contrast in textures, the crunchy exterior and the chewy interior. And something that is made to seem so difficult is only sugar and eggs – the essence of simplicity. Dressed with cream and whatever fruit is in season, passionfruit or kiwi to be Aussie kitsch, this recipe can be made with spontaneity.
So even if it’s not Summer, Pavlovas remind me of BBQs and humid QLD afternoons and an elderly couple holding hands as the sun sets.
Mini Pavlovas (recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess)
half a lemon or a leftover lemon wedge
8 large free-range egg whites
pinch of salt
500g castor sugar
4 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cups thick pure cream
fruit of your choice for topping
Preheat the oven at 180C.
Choose a heavy bowl, preferably not plastic, ceramic and metal are best. Run the lemon lightly around the bowl. I’m not sure what this does, I think it has something to do with the even-ness of the whisking, but it works for me nevertheless! You don’t want juice in the bowl here, just a hint of lemon, like on the edge of a Margarita glass!
Whisk the egg whites with the salt until firm and forming peaks. Gently add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, sprinkling over the egg mixture and whisking after each one. Whisk until you have a bowlful of shiny, white, very stiff meringue mixture.
Carefully sprinkle the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla over the meringue mixture and fold a few times to work through.
Use a pint glass or a large water glass to draw circles on to your baking paper, and spoon the mixture onto the circles. Flatten their tops slightly with a spoon and place in the oven, turning it down to 150C.
Bake for 30mins.
Turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven for another 30mins (or as long as you can wait), then leave them to cool on a wire rack.
When cool, carefully remove from the baking paper, dress with cream and fruit and enjoy!