Sunday, 16 August 2009

Strawberry Pavlova

Because when you think about it you can always whip this up, pull the curtains, turn on the travel channel and pretend the sun is shining.

Pavlova is pretty easy to make. If you've tried before without success though chances are you need to up the amount of sugar in the recipe and always remember to leave the pavlova in the oven to cool, yes it takes ages, but it just isn't the same otherwise.

Start off by preheating your oven to 180C and lining a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a sheet of silpat, whichever you have handy. Foil, greaseproof paper or just greasing the tray don't work very well for pavlova. I use a large round pizza sheet for mine, but nobody ever said pavlova had to be round so if all you have is a regular square or rectangular sheet, go with that.

Next gather your ingredients together. You will need;

4 large egg whites
250g caster sugar (you can use unrefined caster which adds a slight caramel taste)
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a carton of double or whipping cream (I know that's a bit obscure but whatever happens to be available in roughly a half pint carton will do the trick)
fruit to top (in this case strawberry)

Now, I haven't taken photos of every step because it would just look like a load of photos of a bowl of white fluff...

Start off with just the egg white in a clean bowl. It really needs to be clean and free of any oil, to be sure pour a little lemon juice or white vinegar onto a clean cloth or paper towel and wipe the inside of the bowl.

Beat the egg white on high speed until they are stiff, you can test them by tipping the bowl upside down over your head if you like.

Next, with the egg whites still beating, add the sugar about a quarter at a time.

This is where it's handy to have a big mixer. Walk away. Yep, that's right walk away and leave it beating. Its quite easy to assume that once the sugar is incorporated into the egg white that it's finished, but you need to leave it beating until you can take a pinch of the mixture between your fingers, rub it and not feel any sugar. Trust me if you try to stand there and watch the machine, you'll get bored, impatient and end up moving on too quickly.

Once all the sugar has dissolved into the egg whites, add the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and beat it again for another minute.

Once you've done all that, the mixture will look soft and shiny.

Next take your lined tray and pile the pavlova mixture into the centre then spread it out into a rough circle. You don't have to be particularly delicate with pavlova in the way that you do with a souffle, just make sure to leave a couple of inches around the outside of the pavlova because these things can grow a fair bit in the oven.

Place the pavlova in the preheated oven and as soon as you close the door, turn the temperature down to 150C. Bake the pavlova at 150c for 1 hour 15 minutes. Once the pavlova is baked, turn the oven on, leave the door closed and walk away.

See what I mean about growing. After a couple of hours the pavlova should be cool (or very nearly at least) and you can remove it from the oven.

To serve invert the pavlova onto a plate. This way you have the light crispy shell on the bottom and outside edges, a bit like a pie shell, but the soft, chewy, mallow bit is in the middle. You can see from the photo below that once you have inverted the pavlova there is usually a crater in what is now the top.

Which is perfect for filling with whipped cream and strawberries.

I usually don't bother to sweeten the cream, but you can do so easily enough by adding a teaspoon or two of icing sugar when you're whipping the cream.

A couple of good variations for pavlova are;

Mashed bananas beaten into the whipped cream, pile it in the centre and top with chopped nuts and finally drizzle with melted dark chocolate. The good thing about this one is that it will cost you about the same amount of money to make all year round whereas a punnet of (crap, spongy, tasteless) strawberries in winter can set you back as much as £10.

You can also replace the caster sugar with golden caster and add 2 tbls of treacle to the pavlova mixture before baking. Once cooled, top the pavlova with hot chopped apples sauteed in a little butter, brown sugar and cinnamon before drizzling with cold cream for another gorgeous winter dessert that tastes a little bit like the toffee apples your granny used to make, but you haven't quite managed the knack of yet.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Coffee Cupcakes

This is my daughter's favourite cake in the whole world. When the weather is miserable, as it is today we make cake and these are her first choice each and every time.

I should start off by explaining that I recently realised that in the US a coffee cake is a cake eaten with coffee and that it could be a plain sponge cake, a flavoured cake such as cinnamon flop or even something like crumb cake whereas here in the UK a coffee cake is a cake flavoured with coffee traditionally a sandwich cake with coffee flavoured butter cream and topped with chocolate vermicelli.

These cupcakes are a variation of that recipe

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and gather your ingredients;

Start off with a two egg simple sponge recipe, weigh the eggs and add the same weight of sugar, butter and self raising flour. Add to that 1 tbls espresso or any strong coffee and 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Put all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and beat for a few minutes until pale and fluffy.

Line a muffin tin and divide the batter between 12 liners then bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes.

Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before frosting.

Place 3 oz butter and 6 oz icing sugar in a large bowl and beat until creamy, add to that 1 tsp strong coffee and beat again until well combined.

Top the cupcakes with the frosting in which ever way you find easiest. I tend to put it in a bag and pipe it on, or if you prefer you can spoon it on or turn the cupcakes upside down and dip them in the frosting.

I topped these cupcakes with chocolate curls instead of the chocolate vermicelli because I just like the look of the little curls on top.

And this would be a 4 year old sized bite, rather than a mummy sized bite.