australia day lamington pie

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It’s hard to believe it’s already the fourth day of February, 2016. The official last month of Summer and its long halcyon days. I’ve taken it upon myself to milk the very last drops from this season’s dwindling balmy nights, mostly by sitting near the back door as grassy breezes waft by. I’m drinking chilled Summer white, grilling fresh romaine and eating ripe stone fruit with juice dripping down my chin.

As I type, it’s nearing midday. I’m sitting on the couch in a t-shirt, barefoot, my skin tinged pink from yesterday’s sun-drenched day in the park. Yes, I know sunburn is bad. It definitely wasn’t intentional; to the contrary, I’m one who wears multiple layers of sunscreen and gravitates to every patch of impervious shade. I just have extremely low sun resistance, assumedly due to my English heritage and a distinct lack of adaptation during the 25+ years that I’ve lived in this hot climate (thank goodness that natural selection is rather antiquated amongst humans these days).

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Enough about me and my feeble freckled complexion (slip, slop, slap, you young ‘uns out there). Back to the end of Summer and its lingering sweetness. It’s actually nice to meet February, it already feels like a positive month full of fortunate (some might say serendipitous) events. It’ll be Valentines Day in a week (any of you harping on about commercialism, I don’t wanna hear it. #helplessromantic), Aaron‘s birthday right after and a celebration party for my mama bear the following weekend (she’s five years clear of breast cancer this year, yussss).

Matt and I are also finally meeting Graz next week after many months (actually, years by now, argh) of waxing lyrical about burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food. At a joint that serves burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food (of course). I can’t wait. It’s the next best thing to actually realising the glory of the hallowed ‘burger off’ challenge that we’ve been planning for a few years now (read one of Graz’s posts about it here). Next time, when I actually own a backyard, we’ll be doing it Graz and Matt. Start trembling.

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Anyway, the main crux of this post isn’t upcoming February wonderment. I want to take you back to the last week of January, during which roughly 23 million Australians celebrated something called Australia Day (I do realise and pay respect to the fact that there are mixed feelings attached to the celebration of our ‘national day’. Whilst I am not choosing to address political sentiment here, this message explains the current political standpoint).

For the majority of the population, ‘Aussie Day’ is characterised by time in the water (whether that be beach, bucket or pool), some sort of barbecue, beer, poorly executed face paint and the Hottest 100. Some also push the boat out with… well, a boat (usually in the shape of an inflatable thong).

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We were definitely no different: we ate snags, we drank beers, we sang songs and soaked in the pool ’til our skin was soft and wrinkly. Some of us visited the Skyworks, as per Perth tradition.

But our barbecue was followed by Lamington Pie.

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For those who don’t know, a lamington is a classic Australian dessert characterised by sponge cake (usually a square or rectangle) dipped in chocolate icing. The dipped cake is then rolled in dessicated coconut, occasionally sliced and sandwiched with jam and cream.

My idea to make a ‘pie’ version of a lamington this year was largely spontaneous, driven by a few types of coconut in the cupboard. In hindsight, I would’ve topped this pie with vanilla whipped cream rather than Italian meringue if I had some on hand (both for ease of construction and to channel a more ‘traditional lamington’ flavour). However, the meringue was equally delicious and stable for transportation in the January heat.

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If you’d like to replicate this pie, I’ve provided the ingredients and method for both Italian meringue and whipped cream below. As aforementioned, both versions have their advantages, though tasters of the meringue version (aka my friends at the Aussie Day party) stated that it was a little more like a ‘Bounty Pie’ than the traditional lamington cakes we scoffed as children.

If you try either version, please let me know your thoughts – particularly if you were a bake-sale lamington eater during your school days. I found that the soft chocolate layer reminded me of sticky lamington icing, particularly good against homemade strawberry jam, buttery pastry and a spoonful of cream.

To all my Aussie readers and friends, happy belated Australia day. May the last month of Summer be especially sweet.

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Lamington Pie

Heavily adapted from Emma Knowles’ Chocolate Coconut Meringue PieGourmet Traveller magazine.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:

  • 250g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 60g pure icing sugar
  • 160g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • splash of ice water
  • lightly beaten egg, extra (for egg wash)

Chocolate layer:

  • 120g desiccated coconut
  • 200g good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut nectar, to taste
  • 300 ml pouring cream (I actually used half and half sour cream and regular cream)
  • egg yolks
  • good pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam

 Italian meringue (or substitute whipped cream option, below *):

  • 220g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) water
  • egg whites
  • splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To serve: 

  • shaved coconut, toasted (optional) 

Sweet pastry: Sift the icing sugar, flour and a pinch of salt into a medium sized bowl. Add in the cubed, cold butter and rub in until the mixture reaches a ‘sandy’ consistency. Add in the egg yolk and a splash of cold water, then mix (with your hand or a spoon) until the dough starts to ‘come together’. Turn out onto a floured work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand and knead until smooth. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to rest.

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After your pastry is rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to 2mm thickness. Carefully transfer into a  4cm-deep, 24cm-diameter tart tin, pressing to fit. Trim off any stray edges and refrigerate for 1 hour (in the meantime, prepare your chocolate filling).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and remove your tart case from the refrigerator. Line with baking paper and weights (baking weights or some dried rice or beans). Bake for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove the weights and paper, prick gently with a fork. Bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until the base is light golden and starting to dry. Gently brush the half-cooked case with egg wash, then bake again for 4-5 minutes or until dark golden. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate layer: Whilst blind baking your pastry case, toast the desiccated coconut on a lined oven tray until light golden (5-6 minutes). Set aside. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside. Bring cream to the boil in a medium saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate starts to melt, then mix through. Sift over the cacao and mix again.

Whisk eggs and 1 tbsp warm water in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water until pale and thick (if you can’t control the heat of your gas or electric hob well, I’d recommend turning it off once the water starts simmering – there should be enough residual heat to thicken the eggs). Gradually pour the mixture into your chocolate and cream mix, whisking until thick and well combined. Taste, then add in coconut nectar and sea salt to your preference (bear in mind that you’ll be folding through toasted coconut). Finally, fold through the toasted coconut. Set aside until your tart case is baked and cooled.

When your tart case is cold, spread the raspberry or strawberry jam across the base. Pour over the chocolate mixture, smooth the top with a spoon and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours). Top with either Italian meringue or whipped cream (both options below).

Italian meringue: Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove sugar crystals, until syrup reaches 115 degrees C (240 degrees f) on a sugar thermometer (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Whisk the egg white, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt together with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue cooking syrup for another 3 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reads 121 degrees C (250 degrees f), then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg white, whisking consistently until thick and glossy. Cool to room temperature, if necessary, then spoon over the refrigerated tart.  Toast the meringue with a blowtorch if desired, and/or top with toasted shaved coconut. Refrigerate until serving.

*Whipped cream option:

  • 2 cups cold thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Add the cold thickened cream to the bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or seeds), then whisk until stiff peaks form (about 4 to 5 minutes). Top the chocolate layer with the whipped cream and toasted coconut, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

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A few shots from Australia Day Skyworks, City of Perth CBD:

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berry pavlova with lemon curd and wild thyme honey

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It’s a rainy Sunday evening; the third week of Western Australian Spring that’s been pervaded by dark clouds, high winds and cold nights. Not that I mind. It’s decidedly cosy in our small apartment; a frosted lamp casts a warm glow across the coffee table as I sit, sipping warm rooibos, on a nearby couch. My fingers tap against plastic keys, pausing momentarily to hear the steady beat of rain against the balcony window. Perfect conditions for evening reverie.

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As I type this sentence, I have exactly three minutes until the last year of my third decade begins: the big three-oh. Two days ago, I was filled with ardent opposition to this idea; mostly as I loathed the idea of leaving my fading youth behind. However, as the day fast approaches, I’ve actually gained some much needed perspective.

This year is to be celebrated, not commiserated. I’m blessed to be alive, to be fit and healthy, to be surrounded by those I love on a daily basis. Each year that passes brings a stronger sense of ‘self’; both individually and within my personal relationships. Plus, I get to eat cake whenever I want (and bake it, too).

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This particular cake was the product of a shopping trip to the beautiful Boatshed Markets in Cottesloe. If you’re a Perth foodie, I’m sure you’ve heard of this place already; aisle after aisle of fresh, local fruit and vegetables, gourmet olive oil, house made antipasti, biodynamic meats, aged cheeses and artisan breads.

I bring home a considerable bounty each time I visit, and Saturday was no different. By checkout time, I had squirreled purple congo potatoes, fresh broad beans, sourdough and cheeses into our basket with some watercress, cured meats and a $9 punnet of vibrant edible flowers.

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Edible flowers are a source of inspiration for me. As soon as I see them, I feel an urge to create something delicate; a fragrant, delicious creation to act as a ‘throne’ for their beauty.

On Saturday, the flower was the common Stork’s Bill, or Erodium cicutarium. One glance at the blushing pink petals, red stems and variegated leaves had me itching to create a delicate pavlova, sandwiched with cream, homemade lemon curd, berries and a fragrant drizzle of wild thyme honey.

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This pavlova is beautiful in every sense of the word. With one bite, you get crunchy meringue, earthy pistachios and a pop of fresh berry wrapped in soft, luscious lemon and crème fraîche.

The wild thyme honey is entirely optional, however the earthy sweet flavour, herbal notes and intoxicating fragrance is incomparable. If you can’t find J.Friend and Co, I’d suggest steeping some fresh thyme in another floral honey (heat it on the stove gently before adding some thyme stalks to soak). It’s the next best thing.

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Berry Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Wild Thyme Honey

Serves 12

For the meringue:

  • 6 large free-range egg whites
  • 300g raw caster sugar
  • splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • a pinch of sea salt

For the filling/decoration:

  • 300ml very cold, full-fat whipping cream
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 4-5 tbsp (about 60-70g) lemon curd
  • 150g punnet fresh blueberries, washed
  • 200g fresh strawberries, washed and diced
  • 100g pistachio nuts, toasted and coarsely crushed/chopped
  • wild thyme honey (I used J.Friend and Co Artisan Honey), to drizzle (substitute your favourite floral honey)
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme, washed, leaves picked
  • edible flowers or dried rose petals, for garnish (optional)

Place your egg whites into a clean, dry bowl. Whisk them at medium speed until they begin to form firm peaks. With the mixer still running, add the sugar in a steady stream alongside the salt and white wine vinegar. As the mixture starts to thicken, turn the beater up to high speed and whisk for another 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is glossy and smooth.

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Rub a bit of the mixture between your finger and thumb; if you can still feel grains of sugar, whisk the meringue for a bit longer until the graininess disappears.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c (300 degrees f). Line two flat-bottomed baking trays with parchment (I use a small dab of meringue in each corner to stick the paper to the tray) and draw a 20cm-diameter circle in the centre of each piece of paper with non-toxic pen or pencil (if you’re unable to find one, draw your circle on the parchment before you line your trays. Stick the paper on upside down so that the circle is still visible but the pen or pencil marks are on the underside).

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With a spatula, drop half of your meringue mixture into the centre of each circle, smoothing the mixture out to the edges of each circle. Try and ensure that the meringue discs are even in height and density. Place the trays into your pre-heated oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, swapping the trays half-way through. When cooked, the meringues should be dry to touch on the outside, and slightly hollow when tapped. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven (temperature off, door slightly ajar) for one hour.

Whilst the meringues are cooling, prepare your filling. Place the whipping cream into clean, medium bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Mix through the crème fraîche, then refrigerate until you’re ready to complete your meringue stack.

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To assemble:

Carefully peel your meringue discs off the parchment paper. Dab a couple of teaspoons of whipped cream onto a cake platter (to stop the bottom meringue dish from moving) and place one meringue disc on top. Smooth over half of the cream mixture, then dab on the lemon curd (use a knife to gently ensure that it’s evenly distributed). Scatter over half of the strawberries and blueberries.

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Place the next meringue disc on top. Cover with the remaining whipped cream (leave about 1-2 cm from the edge of the meringue) then scatter over the remaining berries. Top with the crushed pistachio nuts, then drizzle with a little wild thyme honey. Scatter over the edible flower petals and thyme leaves.

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Note: My mention of J.Friend and Co artisan honey has been unsolicited and unpaid, based entirely on my positive view of this particular company and their products. The views expressed are entirely my own.

lime and burnt sugar meringue tart with coconut pastry

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Over the past few years, Tahitian limes have become a staple item in my shopping basket, mostly for use in salads (such as Mexican Corn Salad), cocktails (it’s great friends with gin), marinades and Mexican food. I absolutely love them… they’re both acidic and sweet, refreshing and adaptable, whilst their distinct floral aroma reminds me of Summer every time.

The only frustrating thing about limes is that their market price seems to vary greatly from week to week in Australia. In recent months, they’ve been up to $1.50 PER LIME at the supermarket… it’s, uh… definitely affected my cocktail consumption. So, you can imagine my delight when I was unexpectedly gifted with an entire bag of limes by a friend at work the other day. I almost danced in delight, holding the crinkling plastic shopping bag with two hands as I squirreled it into my office drawer.

limebox

When I got home, I counted my bounty whilst adding in three supermarket limes from the crisper compartment of my refrigerator. The total? Twenty two beautiful, shining orbs, stalks attached, some gently blushed with hints of ripened gold. They were perfect, like little juicy emeralds sitting on my kitchen table. A growing sense of excitement rose like a butterfly, fluttering in my stomach… what to do with twenty two limes? It was too late to start cooking there and then, so the limes were returned to their shopping bag. I placed them in the crisper compartment next to some friendly heirloom tomatoes, kale and beetroots… then I went to bed. With lime on the brain.

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So, let’s cut to today. I’ve been sitting in my kitchen surrounded by a week’s worth of lime-related productivity. There’s lime curd, chilli-lime pickle, lime simple syrup for cocktails, Mexican salsa and some frozen watermelon, tequila, mint and lime pops. I also candied some lime peel in sugar syrup for cake decorating; it’s been sitting in a sugary little pile on my bench top, waiting to adorn a spectacular creation. These little candied treats eventually inspired me to create a lime curd tart, topped with a cloud of Italian meringue and sugared strips of crunchy lime zest.

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In homage to the end of Summer, I also decided to experiment with a recipe for coconut oil pastry. After reading several recipes including this one from Baking Bites, I ended up with a pallid, soft mess of a pastry shell that was (unfortunately) only fit for the bin. Take two: my own version of butter shortcrust pastry with coconut sugar and additional coconut oil. This pastry shell worked perfectly; buttery, short and golden with a soft, sweet hint of coconut. Unfortunately, both versions of coconut pastry completely solidified whilst ‘resting’ in the refrigerator, so if you’re going to bake the recipe as written, I’d encourage you to maintain an attitude of patient persistence whilst kneading. It’ll all be worth it in the end (or alternatively, if you want to avoid the solid coconut experience, just increase the butter to 125g and omit the coconut oil altogether). The burnt sugar meringue can also be a touch challenging, so if you’d like to increase the simplicity of this recipe I’d recommend only reducing your sugar syrup to the ‘soft ball’ stage, 6-8 minutes or 115 degrees C (240 degrees f). I’ve also included more tips for making Italian meringue under ‘notes’.

Happy cooking (oh, and now that I’ve scared you regarding the level of difficulty… this tart really isn’t so hard if you break it down into several steps. And once you taste it, I guarantee that the work will be all worthwhile).

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Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart with Coconut Pastry

Makes 1 x 23cm tart

This tart includes four components: coconut shortcrust pastry case, lime curd cream filling, burnt sugar Italian meringue and candied lime peel. I’ve broken down each element into an individual ‘recipe’ with instructions for assembly to follow.

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1. Coconut shortcrust pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups (250g) plain flour
  • 100g butter, chilled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil or coconut butter (I use Loving Earth)
  • 1/3 cup (40g) organic coconut sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp chilled water

Place the flour and coconut sugar into a large bowl. Rub in the cubed butter and coconut oil with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the egg yolk and chilled water, then knead until the mixture comes together.

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Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the mixture is smooth. Mold into a flattened ball, cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3o minutes prior to using.

Now for the rolling part: lay a piece of baking parchment over your bench, then sprinkle it lightly with flour. Turn out your dough, and start kneading it again until it reaches a pliable consistency (let me tell you from the start; this is not a fun pastry to work with. The coconut oil makes it go rock hard if you leave it too long in the refrigerator so don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. You’ll just need to knead it consistently until it softens again).

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Once your dough softens, roll it out with a floured rolling pin into a large disc, 0.5cm thick. Drape it over your rolling pin then transfer it across to a 23cm loose-bottomed tart pan. Press your pastry into the edges of the pan and make sure that the surface is covered evenly (don’t worry if your pastry fractures, just pick up the torn pieces and press it all back together inside your tart pan). Prick the surface evenly with the tines of a fork, then place your pastry case into the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Remove your chilled tart case from the refrigerator and line it with foil or baking parchment. Fill the lined case with rice, ceramic pie weights or dried beans. Now it’s time for blind baking: place your weighted tart case into the oven and bake it for about 20 minutes.

After the time has elapsed, remove the case from the oven and take out the weights, foil and/or baking paper. Use a fork to prick and flatten any bubbles that may have formed in the pastry, then return the case to the oven at a reduced temperature of 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).  Bake for another 20 minutes, or until the tart shell is crisp and light golden brown.

Let the case cool completely before adding your filling.

 

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2. Lime curd filling:

  • 1 cup (130g) white caster sugar
  • 60g organic unsalted butter
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup fresh Tahitian lime juice (I used about six medium limes, or to taste)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp lime zest (to taste)
  • 2 whole free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup heavy double cream (or clotted cream, if you can find it)

Place a glass bowl over a pot of gently boiling water to form a double boiler. Add the sugar, butter, lime juice and lime zest into the bowl, then stir the mixture over medium heat until the butter melts.

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Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding your eggs in a gradual, steady stream. Whisk continuously until all of your eggs are combined with the lime mixture, then return the bowl over your pot of hot water and keep stirring until your mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 20 minutes).

When your curd is ready, place it into a clean bowl or jug then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to cool and thicken prior to whipping it with the heavy cream until smooth and glossy. Refrigerate your lime cream filling for 2 hours prior to filling your pastry case.

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3. Italian burnt sugar meringue:
  • 3 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (130g) white caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
Place the egg whites into a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand-mixer. Beat until soft peaks form, then set aside.
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Place the white caster sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water into a medium saucepan over low heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring, then increase the heat to medium, or until the mixture reaches a slow boil. Continue to boil, brushing down the sides of your pan with a wet pastry brush occasionally (to prevent crystallisation) for about 10 minutes or until spots of toffee colour appear. Remove your pan from the heat at this point and swirl the mixture until it darkens to a shade of light toffee.
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Now’s the difficult part. Take your hot pan of burnt sugar syrup, and pour it slowly down the side of the mixing bowl whilst continuing to beat your egg whites (this is much easier if you have a stand mixer). Continue to beat until the meringue is firm, glossy and cooled (about 4-5 minutes).
Refrigerate your mixture until you’re ready to assemble your tart.
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4. Candied lime peel:

Always exercise caution when working with hot sugar syrup

  • 1 lime
  • 1 1/4 cups (160g) white caster sugar
  • extra caster sugar or powdered sugar, to coat
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Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the peel (or ‘rind’) from your lime in 1-cm strips. Use a sharp knife to remove any white pith, then cut the peel into strips (about 2mm wide).
Blanch your lime peel in freshly boiled water for one minute. Drain, then refresh the peel immediately in an ice-water bath. Repeat process, then drain and set aside.
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Heat the sugar with 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble, add in the drained lime peel. Allow to bubble and reduce for 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the syrup becomes viscous and your peel appears translucent and softened.
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Using a slotted spoon, place the peel onto a wire rack to drain. Separate the strands and toss them in caster sugar or powdered sugar to coat. You can store this candied peel in an airtight container for up to three days.
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To assemble:
Place your tart shell onto a serving platter. Fill it with a smooth, even layer of your lime cream filling. Take your Italian meringue and heap it into the centre of the tart, leaving a 2cm/1 inch border around the edge. Use a knife to sculpt the surface decoratively, then if desired, you can either brown it in the oven for 3-5 minutes at 220 degrees C (430 degrees f) or blowtorch the surface until toasted. Top with candied lime peel to serve.
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Notes:

  • This page from Pastry Chef Online contains a great tutorial on making Italian meringue. It also outlines the importance of safety precautions when working with candied sugar.
  • Despite my complaints, all dough needs to rest in the refrigerator before rolling to allow the gluten in the dough to relax. Despite the difficulties of coconut oil in dough, do not skip this ‘resting’ process or you’ll end up with a tough pie crust.
  • You can save your lime-infused blanching liquid and sugar syrup to make a simple syrup for cocktails. Just add them together into a medium saucepan with the juice of three limes, then reduce the lot down into a syrupy consistency. Store in a sterilised glass jar… delicious with vodka or gin, soda water, muddled blackberries, a wedge of fresh lime and loads of mint.

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Extra facts about Coconut Oil:

If you, like me, are new to using coconut oil in cooking, you might be interested in reading a little more about its stated health benefits here. I wouldn’t suggest that you start guzzling it by the litre (read this contrasting article by Kathleen Zelman, Registered Dietitian), however in moderation it contains many heart-friendly short and medium chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44%) and myristic (16.8%). It also has a very high smoke point which means it’s an ideal oil for creating crispy, delicious foods with a delicate hint of fragrant coconut. Warning: coconut oil is contraindicated for those with hypertension (high blood pressure). Consult your doctor if you have any further questions about the suitability of coconut oil for your diet.

dark chocolate, mint and berry pavlova with hazelnut praline

A few years ago, I came across a recipe by Nigella Lawson for a chocolate pavlova topped with double cream, raspberries & chocolate shavings. It looked delicious, chocolatey and rich, and true to form I… well, I decided to make up my own version. That process basically involved making a traditional meringue with the late additions of raw cocoa, dark chocolate & syrupy balsamic. After another read of the recipe and some consideration, I also decided to eliminate my usual addition of cornflour. I suppose I assumed that in Nigella’s recipe, the cocoa would stabilize the meringue as needed.

Scooping the raw meringue onto a baking sheet, I was pleased – it looked beautiful, glossy and thick, studded with beads of deep, dark chocolate. The oven door closed with a soft thud. I glanced at the clock. Then I waited.

Fast forward a couple of hours and the now-cooled meringue disc was out of the oven, sitting proudly upon my kitchen bench. It looked beautiful, high and crisp, slight fault lines exposing a chocolate-studded marshmallowy interior. With a smile, I inverted it onto a serving platter, eagerly topping it with thick whipped double cream. This was where the beauty faded. A crack became a crater and before I knew it, the cream and cherry topping had fallen into a deep, dark hole. It still tasted delicious, but since then I’ve perfected my recipe to eliminate the crater whilst also altering it to become a meringue torte. As you’ll see, the stabilizing cornflour is back whilst other small changes such as fresh mint, homemade cherry jam and hazelnut praline create freshness, crunch and a dessert to remember.

As you might have guessed, this pavlova’s become a hit amongst family and friends, alongside another variation they call ‘Black Forest Pavlova’ due to it’s resemblance to a certain German torte. Like the cake, both variations are richly delicious, creamy, moist, and studded with juicy black cherries. The recipe below is for the mint and berry version, but check the included ‘notes’ for tips to transform it into a Black Forest. Try one for your next celebration, especially if you’ve got chocaholics on the list. You (and they) won’t be disappointed.

Dark Chocolate, Mint and Berry Pavlova with Hazelnut Praline

Serves 6-8

For the meringue:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 270g superfine caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp raw cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 tsp of cornflour, sieved
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 80g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa)

To serve:

  • 500ml full-fat whipping cream
  • Minted berry filling (recipe to follow)
  • 50g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa), coarsely shaved
  • 1/2 cup hazelnut praline (recipe to follow)
  • Mint leaves & whole black cherries for garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).  Take two sturdy baking trays (at least 30x30cm in size) and cut a square piece of baking paper to fit each. Trace a central circle around 20cm in diameter (I use a 20cm diameter cake tin as a template) on each piece of baking paper, then set your lined trays aside.

Place your egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating until your meringue is stiff and shiny.

At this point, add your cocoa, balsamic, cornflour and chopped chocolate. Gently fold in with a spatula or balloon whisk until thoroughly mixed. Place half of your meringue on each paper-lined baking tray, in the centre of your traced circles. Smooth out to fill the circle, ensuring that your mound has a smoothish top and defined sides.

Turn your oven down to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f), then place your two trays in the oven (on central shelves, if possible). Cook for around 60-75 minutes, switching your trays half way through the cooking process. You will know your meringue is cooked when the exterior looks crisp and dry, and it feels hard beneath your fingers. Don’t wait for it to crack – this means that it’s already gone too far! When cooked, turn off your oven, leaving your meringue discs inside to cool with the door slightly ajar for at least 2 hours, or overnight (if you remove them at this point, they will cool too quickly and the meringue may crack and collapse).

To serve your meringue torte: Invert one of your meringue discs onto a large, flat bottomed serving plate. Whisk your cream until light and fluffy, then cover your meringue base with one third of your whipped cream, leaving a little ‘ridge’ around the edge to hold in your filling. Top this with half of your minted berry mixture, half of your hazelnut praline (recipes for both below) and half of your shaved chocolate. Cover this with a little more cream (to act as an adhesive for your next meringue), then place your other meringue disc on top.

Top your meringue with as much of the remaining whipped cream as you like, your remaining minted berry mixture, hazelnut praline, shaved chocolate and reserved whole cherries. I like to let some shaved chocolate and praline fall haphazardly on the plate’s rim. Add on your reserved mint leaves to garnish, then you’re all done. Serve generous slices as everyone’s sure to lick the plate.

Minted Berry filling:

  • 2 heaped tbsps black cherry jam (my favourite is Bonne Maman Cherry Preserve)
  • 200g fresh pitted black cherries (pitted and halved)
  • 250g punnet of fresh strawberries
  • One bunch of fresh mint (equivalent to 1/2 cup shredded leaves)

Place your cherry jam into a medium sized bowl. Add in the topped, halved strawberries (or quartered, depending upon the size of the fruit), pitted and halved cherries and shredded mint. Mix well and allow to macerate for at least an hour. If your fruit start to bleed and juice collects in the bottom of your bowl, don’t worry… this is normal. You can either serve the berries and juice as is, allowing some of the trickling dark juices to penetrate the meringue, or if preferred, strain your minted fruit and then reduce the remaining liquid in a saucepan (over high heat, allow mixture to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the fluid reaches a jammy consistency). Place your strained fruit on either layer of cream and drizzle a little reduced liquid as desired. I like option two, but remember to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if the concentrated juices are too richly sweet…  your meringue will be sweet enough.

Hazelnut Praline:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 1-2 tbsp of cold water

Place your hazelnuts on a baking tray and lightly toast them in the oven until you can see the skins start to loosen. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool to the touch, wrap the nuts in a dry tea towel to form a ‘parcel’. Rub them vigorously to remove the skins. Any remaining skin should be easily removable with your hands or a blunt knife. Coarsely chop half of the nuts, leaving the other half whole. Place them on a baking-paper-lined tray.

Place the caster sugar in a shallow pan with the cold water, then agitate (I mean, move the pan about) until the water coats most of the sugar crystals. Cook over medium heat, stirring for five minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, then bring mixture to the boil. Boil without stirring for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn reddish gold. When this happens, even if it’s just in one corner, remove the pan from the heat and then agitate the mixture until the golden colour spreads throughout all of the liquid. You’ve just made a basic wet caramel (as opposed to dry caramel, which is made just by melting sugar crystals).

Allow mixture to cool slightly (any bubbles should subside), then pour your caramel over the prepared hazelnuts, covering them as evenly as possible. Allow to cool. Once the mixture solidifies, you can either break it into shards or as I do, coarsely chop it to scatter over your finished pavlova. Any leftover praline shards are delicious eaten on their own with coffee, or crumbled, to scatter generously over ice-cream.

Notes for a perfect Pavlova:

If you’ve developed a habit of producing meringue failures (or literal ‘flops’… haha I am so funny) then read on right here for troubleshooting tips:

  • Before you start, make sure that your bowl, whisk or beaters are completely clean, dry and free of grease. Any trace of oil, grease or moisture could be enough to prevent your egg whites from aerating.
  • Use fresh eggs, separate them when cold and then allow them to come to room temperature before whisking. From prior experience I’ve found that fresh eggs separate much better than older ones and have less obvious water content. They’re also a lot more stable once whisked, which makes them easier to work with when building your meringue disc.
  • If you get any eggshell or yolk in your mixture of whites, discard them and start again. This seems harsh, but any traces of yolk can spoil the composition of your whisked eggwhites, preventing your meringue from setting properly.
  • Make sure that all of your sugar is completely dissolved during the whisking process. Undissolved sugar will cause ‘weeping’, or beads of moisture to form on the meringue. A trick to tell if your sugar is dissolved is to rub a little bit of the uncooked meringue between your fingers – if you can feel any granules, keep whisking.
  • The addition of acid (including vinegar, lemon juice, citric acid) helps to stabilise your meringue, and makes the meringue ‘foam’ much less likely to suffer from the effects of overbeating (separation of the water from solids, meringue collapse, lumpiness). In other words, acid is good. Cornflour plus acid is even better.
  • For expanding the recipe: basic composition of a meringue is 55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar for each egg white. I play around with this a little but if you’re new to making meringues, use this as a guide.
  • If you’re worried about your meringue collapsing, use a palette knife to draw furrows around the edge. This will help support the edges of your pavlova to prevent it cracking and collapsing.
  • You can make meringues a couple of days in advance. Store them in an airtight container, away from heat and moisture, before use.

P.S. Apologies for the noticeable lack of images containing the entire filled pavlova. Unfortunately I assembled it at night and then made various attempts to photograph it under a range of artificial light sources. Epic fail, to say the least. So… if you want to see the full beauty of this mint, berry and cream laden mound of chocolate deliciousness, you’ll just have to make one yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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