Easy Breezy Birthday Pavlova

Apr 29, 2015

This past weekend we got to celebrate a Birthday in our family, a big and round one, as my father in law turned 70. And a big party was held, in the garden, with all of his friends there. I really wanted to make a cake for his Birthday, one that would cater to all sixty people present. And since he is a huge fan of berries, but not a big cake aficionado, I decided to make a light and berry-covered Pavlova.

I’d like to start by saying that Pavlova is really not a difficult cake to make. Everyone seems to be daunted by meringue and I’ve heard so many people say meringue to be the true test of a cook. Let me just say, no. There are a couple of secrets to achieving proper meringue, but it’s not difficult. The most important thing is to be patient in beating the egg whites to the stiffest peaks possible and then, to really know your oven; I’ve heard so many different amounts of time required for baking meringue from one oven to another, that I can’t remember. Since meringue burns easily, you will need to keep an eye on it. Also, I strongly advise you to keep the egg whites at room temperature for at least one day (4 days is best). Apart from that, there’s really nothing to it. Unless you want a perfect white meringue, case in which you need to beat the egg whites in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water: this is a trick I learned from a pastry chef, but I really can’t be bothered.

The meringue for the Pavlova should be crisp and cracked a bit on the surface and soft and marshmallowy on the inside. Basically, every part of this cake can be made ahead: the meringue can be stored in a cool and dry place and the whipped cream can be kept in the fridge, in an air-tight container for about 12 hours prior to using it. However, assembling the cake cannot be done ahead, as it will not hold for too long; the best thing to do is to mount it just before serving. Also, keep in mind that this is a hot-mess-kind-of-cake, so it will not look like a perfect slice of cake, but rather like a huge plop of meringue and cream scattered all over with berries. Sadly, I don’t have a photo with the cake sliced, as I helped cut it and by the time I was done, it had been devoured.

For the cake pictured, I made the recipe below times five. The recipe that follows will make a Pavlova that serves 8 people.

Berry Pavlova

For the Pavlova:

4 large free-range egg whites

200gr/1 cup superfine caster sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds scraped from one vanilla pod

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 Tblsp cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 130C/250F. Line your oven tray with parchment paper and draw a 20cm/9in circle on the paper. Turn the paper over, this is where you will spread your meringue. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with the aid of a handheld mixer, set on medium speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and whip until the meringue holds very stiff peaks and becomes shiny. Beat in the vanilla extract or seeds. Sprinkle the vinegar and the cornstarch on top and incorporate with a spatula, using light movements. Spread your meringue on the prepared parchment paper and with the aid of the spatula, raise the edges of the meringue, so that the centre resembles a nest for where the cream and the fruit will go once it’s done. Pop in the oven and bake for anywhere around 50 to 75 minutes, depending on your oven. Test to see if it’s done by inserting a toothpick: the surface should be crisp and the interior should be marshmallow-like, but not too soft. Turn the heat off, leave the oven door slightly open and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven for 4 hours or preferably, overnight.

For the whipped cream:

200ml/1 cup whipping cream, unsweetened and made from full-fat milk

1 Tblsp superfine caster sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds scraped from one vanilla pod

250gr/9 oz. strawberries, hulled and halved

125gr/4,5 oz. raspberries

125gr/4,5 oz. blueberries

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with the aid of a handheld mixer, beat the cream until it holds soft peaks, then add the sugar and whip a little more. Add the vanilla extract or seeds and mix with a spatula until incorporated.

To assemble the Pavlova, simply spread the whipped cream on the centre of the meringue and decorate with berries. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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