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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Berry Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Wild Thyme Honey
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.