I had the best week last week. Walked out of work at 8.30pm (12.5 hour day [grrrr]) on Tuesday night and didn't come back until this morning. The late finish was unavoidable, but the knock-on effect (and a need for sleep) threw my blogging schedule right out the window.
Had a friend visiting from Australia from Thursday to Sunday with her 5-year-old son. We did many of the tourist things: London Eye, Harrods, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour (the red tours are best - real guides); caught up on a serious amount of each other's lives; and had a Brunch BBQ on the Sunday where I tried (and failed) to round up as many old friends as possible. Sadly, we missed out on a Duck Tour because they were fully booked. Also the BBC have closed all of their walk-in shops (they now only sell on-line), so her son couldn't be rewarded for his excellent behaviour with Underground Ernie merchandise.
The highlight of the BBQ was a classic Australian desert: Pavlova.
4 egg whites
0.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 cups castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence/extract (get the real one not the artificial)
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
300ml whipping/double cream
1 cup (approx) soft fruit to decorate - I use raspberries
1) In a large, grease-free bowl combine the salt and the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form.
2) Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time and whisk until combined. Be careful, unincorporated sugar will cause the pavlova to weep syrup.
3) Put the oven on to preheat at this point. Pre-heat it to 120 degrees Celsius.
4) Separately whisk in the vanilla essence, vinegar and corn flour.
5) Line a large cookie sheet or pizza tray with non-stick baking parchment (professionals add a layer of rice paper on top). Spoon about a third of the egg mixture onto the parchment and form a thin circle. Spoon or pipe the remaining egg onto the edge of the circle to form a rim. You need a reasonable hollow in the middle.
6) Bake at 120 degrees Celsius for 1.5 hours. Leave undisturbed in the oven to cool overnight (if it cools too fast it will crack).
7) Gently slide the pavlova from the baking parchment onto a presentation plate. Professionals slide it over on the rice paper, then cut away the excess rice paper.
8) Whip the cream and use it to fill the centre of the pavlova. Decorate with the fruit.
a) I use vanilla sugar: place a vanilla pod into a large jar. Cover with sugar, screw on the lid and leave for a minimum of 2 weeks. Keeps indefinitely.
b) The vinegar makes the meringue chewy, whilst the corn flour makes the outside nice and crisp.
c) The electric beaters/whisk is essential, which is why I've included them in the ingredients. They don't have to be an expensive set though. Mine cost £10.
d) The beaters and the bowl must be free of grease or the egg whites won't form peaks. Clean them with vinegar if you have any doubts.
e) Break the eggs over a separate bowl, adding the whites individually into the mixing bowl. Any trace of egg yolk will stop the egg whites forming peaks and ruin the meringue.
f) I use the egg yolks for cakes or pancakes.