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Here’s the recipe of the dessert that Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Vermeille reminds me most of — it’s a favorite “special summer treat” of my family’s, and I’ll be upfront with you that it takes some time and effort to make.  It’s worth it, though: light as a feather, ethereal and yet rich.

The CEO did his master’s degree in Agricultural Economics in New Zealand, on a Fulbright Scholarship.  Pavlova was a dessert he encountered there and immediately enjoyed, and when I made a dessert called “Fresh Berry Meringue Torte” from my much-loved copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, he sat up straight in his chair and exclaimed, “But this is Pavlova!  How did you know I love this?”

A brief history of Pavlova-the-dessert: it’s named, of course, after Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian prima ballerina.  Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated it as an homage to Anna Pavlova during one of her tours there in the 1920s.  Pavlova is essentially made of three components: baked meringue, whipped cream, and fruit.  The meringue can also incorporate such varied ingredients as cocoa powder, espresso powder, and ground nuts.  The baked meringue specific to Pavlova is supposed to be a bit soft in the center, with a crispy meringue-cookie texture on the outside.  Traditionally, the topping is whipped heavy cream with strawberries and kiwifruit, the tangy fruit contrasting with the sweet meringue and cream, but of course you see pavlovas made with all kinds of soft fruit: raspberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes, even passionfruit pulp.  Here’s a link to some other recipes which are perhaps more authentically Kiwi and/or Aussie, but I’ll also share mine, which is made in layers (not authentic, but yummy anyway).   The proportions and basic directions are from The Cake Bible, but interjections (and faux creme fraiche recipe) are mine.

I really like to use dacquoise (sometimes called meringue japonais), as the ground nuts in it cut some of the sweetness of the meringue.  Also, creme fraiche is far tangier than straight cream.  Peaches and blackberries sometimes grace my pavlova.

I admit this is one of the most involved and fiddly desserts I ever make, and I don’t make it often. Brownies tend to be more the kids’ speed anyway. The directions are long, but it’s really not all that complicated, and it doesn’t really require special equipment. You will need, at minimum, a large baking sheet, a whisk, a blender or food processor, a spoon, a rubber spatula, an electric mixer (I used to have only a hand mixer, and it turned out fine), an oven, and a refrigerator. Basically, if you’re going to cook anything, you’ve probably already got what you need on hand, in terms of equipment. So don’t worry.

Here’s Part I: Dacquoise Discs

¾ to 1 cup toasted, peeled, and finely ground almonds or hazelnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup + 1 Tbsp. superfine sugar (if you can’t find this at the grocery, just pulse regular sugar for a few minutes in your food processor or blender, then measure to get the right amount)

¾ cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

4 large egg whites (fresh – don’t use the packaged variety)

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Optional: whisk 2 Tbsp. cocoa into the powdered sugar. Only add this if you’re using fruit that marries well with chocolate, like raspberries and strawberries.

All ingredients should be at room temperature (yes, even the eggs). Preheat oven to 200° F. Important: don’t bother trying to make this when it’s humid. Seriously. It will be a soggy mess. If your kitchen is air-conditioned, though, you’re probably okay. You’ll know whether it feels humid in your kitchen or not.

Line a heavy baking sheet with a nonstick liner (like Silpat) or heavy foil. Trace a 9-inch cake pan onto the foil, or make a template to slip under the liner. If you’d like, you can make three 7-inch discs instead. Don’t line the baking sheet with parchment paper because meringue and dacquoise will frequently stick to it.

Place the ground nuts, cornstarch, half the superfine sugar, and all the powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Set aside in a small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat at medium speed. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, gradually add the remaining superfine sugar and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

Fold in the reserved nut mixture with a large rubber spatula. Be gentle. As soon as it’s mixed, spread the dacquoise mixture onto the foil or Silpat liner. You can pipe it on if you want to be fancy, but I never bother.

Bake. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, bake the dacquoise for an hour and then leave it overnight in the turned-off oven. If, like me, you have an electric oven, bake the dacquoise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it’s dry but not browned. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR FOR THE FIRST 45 MINUTES, or the dacquoise will crack. Of course, it will still taste fine.

Let the dacquoise cool completely before trying to move it from the liner or foil. The best way to get the discs off the foil, I’ve found, is to cut around the discs with scissors, leaving an inch or so all around the dacquoise. Then pick up a disc and hold it upside-down in your nondominant hand, while you gently peel the foil away from the disc. Don’t pry the dacquoise off the foil; that way lies madness and dacquoise crumbling in your hands, as I know to my sorrow.

Meringue variation (I admit I like the dacquoise because it’s less sweet, and because I love the flavor of nuts, but not everyone can eat nuts):

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ cup + 1 tablespoon superfine sugar

1 cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

 Optional: whisk 2 tablespoons of cocoa into the powdered sugar. This has the benefit of reducing the sweetness level somewhat, although chocolate doesn’t go well with some fruits.

As with the dacquoise, have everything at room temperature, preheat oven to 200° F, and don’t make on humid days. Also prepare the pan with foil or Silpat liner, just as described above. In a mixing bowl, beat whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, and beat at medium speed while gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the superfine sugar. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, add 1 tablespoon superfine sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly, gradually beat in remaining superfine sugar and beat until very stiff and glossy.

Sift the powdered sugar over the meringue and fold in, gently, using a large rubber spatula. Immediately spread (or pipe, if you insist) onto the baking sheet, creating 2 large or 3 small discs. Bake as directed in the dacquoise recipe. Cool completely before removing from the foil or liner as described above.

And Part II: Creme Fraiche Filling

 There are three ways you can do this… well, maybe four, if you are lucky enough to find real crème fraiche at your grocery. Assuming you aren’t, here are your options.

 Option A: If you have a coupla days, make your own crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cup heavy (whipping) cream

4 teaspoons buttermilk

1 ½ tablespoon sugar

Combine the cream and buttermilk in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot. The top of the fridge is fine, or near the stove. Allow to sit undisturbed for 12-14 hours or until thickened but still pourable. This may take as long as 36 hours.  When it’s thick, add the sugar and whisk lightly until soft mounds form when dropped from a spoon.

Note: the high fat content makes this possible – don’t stress about not refrigerating it. Like butter, it doesn’t spoil or mold or grow bacterial colonies when kept at room temperature for a few days. After you’ve got it to the right consistency, though, put it in the fridge, where it will keep for up to three weeks. Crème fraiche is tangy yet sweet.

Option B: Quick crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cups

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Beat just until soft peaks form when the beater is raised or until it mounds when dropped from a spoon. You can store this in the fridge for 24 hours, but rebeat lightly before using to restore airiness. This is the version I usually use.

Option C: If you’re seriously worried about the fat content (are you sure you want to eat dessert?), make this vastly less good but still edible faux crème fraiche:

1 8-ounce package of frozen whipped topping, thawed in the fridge until soft

1 8-ounce carton of vanilla yogurt (I recommend Yoplait – it’s far tangier than many brands) OR a 6-ounce carton of plain Greek yogurt plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk together until creamy. Will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

 Aaaaaand Part III: Assembly

First, decide if you want a crisper pavlova or a soft and airy one. If you’d like it crisp – which is more traditional – assemble about an hour before you’ll be serving the dessert. I like mine soft, because the topping soaks into the dacquoise discs and the whole thing gets light and ethereal as angels’ wings, so I assemble up to four hours before serving. You’ll need about a pint to a pint and a half of fresh raspberries, and a pretty plate wide enough to hold your dacquoise discs.

Drop a small spoonful of your creamy topping, whichever you made, onto the center of the plate. Then place one of your discs on top of it. (This will keep the pavlova from sliding off onto the countertop and smashing into globby bits, thus preventing your tears and rending of garments. Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Assuming you made two larger discs, top the bottom one with about half, or slightly more than half, of the topping. Then add half the berries (save the prettiest ones for the top). Top this with the second disc, and then add the rest of the creamy topping. You can swirl it with the spatula if you want it all pretty, or pipe it if you’re a Martha-Stewart-in-training. Then add the remaining berries in a decorative fashion. You can add a few chocolate shavings or a restrained sprinkling of ground nuts, if you like.  Of course, if you made three discs, apportion the creamy topping and the berries so you can have three layers (duh).

Store in the fridge, preferably in a cake or pie holder to keep it safe, and away from the Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon with Wasabi you had for dinner last night, until you’re ready to serve. Cut into wedges and serve. Eat with joy. Toast the New Zealanders (Kiwis). Then, just to cover all the bases, toast the Aussies.

A few years ago, The CEO got to revisit that part of the world through a different scholarly fellowship program – and I was able to join him for three weeks of the tour.   Australia was interesting, and friendly and clean and enjoyable.  I’d go back anytime.  But I fell in love with New Zealand, and from time to time I daydream of retiring to Wellington someday.  (The CEO says, “Not Wellington, it’s really windy there.  Aucklanders make fun of Wellington weather.”  I remind him that although Auckland was very nice, it felt more like Florida to me than home, and constant 70F temps would bore me.   “We could try  Te Awamutu instead; it’s not far from Wellington, and the weather’s better.  You’d like Te Awamutu.”)   Whether we actually go or not, we’ll probably be eating pavlova in the summer.

Image is Timeless Pavlova from (heart)babybee at Flickr.

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