Wimbledon starts tomorrow and rain is forecast – what could be more British?
We are in the UK for the rest of this summer, hoping to move in to our new home in Cornwall at some point before we head back to Turkey in September. Six months after selling our house in Warwick, we have still to exchange contracts on the new house and the process is beginning to resemble pulling teeth without anaesthetic.
Our usual lovely house-sitters are in Turkey looking after our cats, having booked their flights months ago, so we have rendered ourselves temporarily homeless. Never mind – trustedhousesitters.com to the rescue. At the moment, we are enjoying the beautiful Shropshire countryside, looking after two golden retrievers while their owners are on holiday in Spain. Thankfully, this weekend has been sunny and the dogs had a great time chasing a ball this morning, after nearly a week of short walks in the rain and quite a lot of rolling around in the mud:
We have had distinguished visitors over the weekend, in the form of Jean and Ian, our chums from Turkey – it is always a little strange seeing people we know from Turkey on British soil. Somehow we feel as though we are in the wrong setting.
Having run amok in Tesco Extra in Shrewsbury in the week, and using several egg yolks to make Portuguese custard tarts, I put the egg whites and some of my Tesco loot to good use by way of a rhubarb and ginger Pavlova for dessert on Friday evening. I love rhubarb, but it simply doesn’t exist in Turkey – we’ve tried several times to grow it, but it usually makes it as far as June, then slowly curls up and dies. The biggest crop we’ve ever achieved was two tiny slender sticks, so we’ve decided to give up and just enjoy it all the more when we visit the UK.
Many people tell me they are nervous about making meringue, but as long as your equipment is scrupulously clean, it is very easy. An electric whisk makes short work of it, but a decent balloon whisk and a bit of elbow grease will also work fine.
Always use a glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl for mixing meringue – it is impossible to ensure that plastic is entirely grease free, and you only need the smallest trace of grease to sabotage your efforts. Wash everything in soapy water, then make sure it is all rinsed very thoroughly in hot running water – washing-up liquid also contains oil, so you need to make sure it has all been rinsed off. Dry everything thoroughly with a clean, dry, tea towel. (Even if your stuff has been in a clean cupboard, wash it again just before use – if someone has touched the bowl or whisk with greasy fingers, your meringue will flop).
Many chefs say that egg whites will whip better at room temperature – I think this is absolute rot and they are also much easier to separate if they are cold. Break each egg white into a clean ramekin or cup, then only add to the mixing bowl if you are absolutely certain that the yolk hasn’t broken and there is no trace of it in the white. If you are in doubt, save the egg for something else and start again with another egg and a clean ramekin.
I like to add chopped toasted hazelnuts to my Pavlova mix – it gives a yummy chewy praline texture, which works well with fresh fruit. If you are in the UK, you can buy these ready-toasted and chopped in any large supermarket, but those of you in Turkey will have to do the toasting and chopping yourselves. Adding a tiny spot of vinegar and some cornflour (white corn starch) to the meringue results in a lovely mallowy centre. It is best to fill your Pavlova at least a couple of hours before you want to eat it, so that the meringue softens very slightly. I think it is absolutely delicious the next day too, when it has gone just a little on the squidgy side. Adding a little thick yoghurt to the whipped cream helps to temper the sweetness a little, but this is entirely your choice.
I only had two egg whites, but these made a meringue large enough to feed eight (or, in our case, the four of us on two consecutive evenings). To give you an idea, the meringue was dinner plate-sized.
Rhubarb & ginger praline Pavlova
Serves 6 – 8
You will need a shallow baking tray or swiss roll tin (cookie sheet), lined with non-stick baking parchment
For the meringue:
2 egg whites
140g caster sugar
50g chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon cornflour (corn starch)
1 teaspoon vinegar
For the filling:
400g rhubarb, washed
2 pieces of stem ginger in syrup plus a little syrup, finely chopped (or a tablespoon of ginger cordial)
300ml double cream
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt (unflavoured)
Pre-heat the oven to 140C.
Put the egg whites into a very clean mixing bowl and whisk until they are stiff and you can tip the bowl upside down without the mix falling out.
Add the sugar a little at a time, whisking as you go. The mix should be thick and glossy, and should stand in stiff peaks when you remove the whisk:
Using a clean metal spoon, fold in the cornflour and vinegar, then finally stir in the nuts:
Tip the mixture onto the lined baking sheet and roughly shape into a circle. Use a knife or spatula to shape the sides so that you create a hollow for your filling.
Bake for 1 hour, remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
For the filling:
Top and tail the rhubarb and pull off any particularly stringy bits of skin. Cut the rhubarb into 2cm pieces. Put into a baking dish into which the rhubarb fits fairly snugly, along with the sugar, chopped ginger and a little of the syrup from the ginger jar (or ginger cordial if you prefer). Give everything a stir, cover with foil, and bake alongside the meringue for about half an hour. If the rhubarb feels soft, remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and return the dish to the oven (uncovered) for another ten minutes or so until the cooking juices have reduced to a fairly thick syrup. (If the rhubarb doesn’t feel soft when pierced with a knife, give it a few more minutes). Allow to cool completely.
Once the Pavlova is completely cold, whisk the double cream until stiff, then stir in the yoghurt. Fill the Pavlova with the cream mixture, then top with the rhubarb and pour over any remaining syrup.
The Pavlova is best filled a couple of hours before you are going to eat it, so that the meringue softens just a little. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat.
(If you want to make this ahead, the unfilled meringue will keep well for a couple of days, stored in a cool, dry place – not the fridge – then fill it a couple of hours before you are ready to eat. The cooked rhubarb and syrup will keep for a day or two, stored separately in a non-metallic container in the fridge.)