The onset of autumn (with cold mornings and the promise of winter) is bearable, for me anyway, only because it means figs are ripening on Melbourne backyard trees. I was way up high, in the dappled light of a fig tree on Thursday, precariously balanced on an old ladder, reaching for fat purple figs. They were just split, perfectly ripe. I ripped one open and ate my first hand picked, hot from the sun, fig. One of my very favourite things.
Last year Sarah and I had a house with its own fig tree, where the birds came to nibble and sing first thing every morning, and then again in the late afternoon. The figs were so prolific we didn’t mind sharing. We ate figs everyday, testing them first with a little squeeze. Figs don’t ripen off the tree so it’s important to pick them at the right moment. Previously I’d always had to steal my figs from the overhanging branches of neighbourhood trees. Autumn walks around Carlton North and Brunswick, with basket (and sometimes a little stool to reach the high ones) in hand, was the afternoon ritual. My friend Emilio was actually caught red handed (the sap from figs can leave the hands with a rash) in his neighbour’s backyard, picking a basket of their figs, he’d thought they were on holiday. He very sheepishly managed to leave with the stolen figs.
Nadia gave us the idea for this brown sugar pavalova with fresh figs. Sarah and I have been waiting, waiting for figs to be in season to try it. We refer to this as ‘The Grand Pav’, it’s quite a sophisticated presence at the table, especially with the boozy syrup drizzled over it. Surely, it’s the only way to consume this much sugar and still feel kind of adult.
Brown Sugar Pavlova with Dark Rum Syrup and Fresh Figs
adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller March 2009
4 egg whites
150g caster sugar
120g brown sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
400ml thickened fresh cream
6 (or more!) fresh figs
for the Rum Syrup
125g caster sugar
90g brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
20ml dark rum
Preheat oven to 150C. Whisk egg whites and a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, then add caster sugar gently and gradually while whisking until firm peaks form and mixture is thick and glossy. Add half of the brown sugar, whisk until glossy. Fold in cornflour, vinegar, and vanilla bean paste. Very gently spoon meringue into an 18cm diameter mound on a baking paper-lined tray and bake for 2 hours. Turn off oven and allow it to cool completely before removing the pavlova.
While the pavlova is cooling prepare the syrup. Combine sugars, lemon juice, vanilla bean seeds and 130ml water in a small saucepan and stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and reduce until syrupy. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add rum and stir.
Whisk cream and remaining brown sugar together until soft peaks form. Spoon the cream on top of pavlova, pile with quartered figs and drizzle with rum syrup.