Pavlova – Daring Kitchen challenge for August 2016

This month I hosted a Daring Kitchen challenge and challenged the members of the Daring Kitchen to make a pavlova. I know, not that daring really, is it? But that was the whole point. I wanted this to be more of a creative challenge…take the main ingredient of a pavlova and let your culinary  imagination go wild. Daring Kitchen members came up with some wonderful creations. Have a look here. Or have a look at these wonderful blogs here, here, here or here.

I have been making Pavlova for many years and it is standard dessert fare at many Australian gatherings. The classic Pavlova is a dessert consisting of a crisp, light meringue base topped with fruit and cream. Most often the centre of the meringue is of a marshmallowy consistency. However Pavlova can be stacked layers, mini Pavlovas, or lightly baked and rolled with a filling. The meringue can be flavoured with nuts, spices, chocolate, cocoa or coffee powder and filled with custards, mousses, bavarians, mascarpone, fruit curds or yoghurt.
The recipe I provided is one I have used for many years, so long that I don’t know where it came from but it is very similar to most recipes for the Classic Pavlova. I prefer my Pavlova baked to quite crunchy with little marshmallow in the centre. I usually top with fresh whipped Chantilly cream and fresh fruit such as strawberries, kiwi fruit and passionfruit. On this occasion I made a passionfruit curd to drizzle over the cream and topped with green and gold kiwi fruit and toasted shredded coconut.

This recipe can be halved or increased quite easily just keep in mind that the cooking time will vary. I often make this into a 6 egg white pavlova.
Make sure your whisking bowl is clean and greasefree. If in doubt rub with paper towel dipped in white vinegar or lemon juice before use.
Have everything ready on the bench because once you start mixing, your pavlova you can’t be interrupted.
Use eggs at room temperature to ensure the best whip. The egg whites must not contain even a trace of yolk. To be sure separate each egg individually.
I like to use cream of tartar to stablise the whites. I have read that a ½ teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice or even a pinch of salt can be substituted but I
can’t verify this.
If you can’t get superfine sugar, whiz regular sugar in the food processor.
Do not open the door during the cooking then when baled. allow to cool slowly in the oven with the door ajar.

Recipe 1: Pavlova

Servings: 8 to 10 serves or less if your guests are hungry
4 egg whites (approx. 120g or 8 Tbsp using 57g / 2oz eggs), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup / 225g / 8oz caster/ superfine sugar
3 tsp / 8g cornstarch (Australia ­ cornflour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
Preheat the oven 135°C / 275°F / Gas Mark 1 and prepare a large flat tray by lining with nonstick baking paper.
Beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar one tablespoon at a
time. Continue beating until the meringue is thick and glossy and the sugar has dissolved.

Rub a little meringue between fingers. If still “gritty” with sugar, continue to whisk until sugar dissolves.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently fold in the sifted cornstarch, followed by the vanilla and the vinegar.
Pile the mixture onto the baking paper lined flat tray. It should be about a 20 ­ 25cm / 8 ­ 10″ circle. Hollow out the centre a little.

Bake for 1 ¼ hours. If your oven runs hot and the pavlova is colouring simply lower the temperature by 5 or 10 degrees.
Cool in the oven with the door ajar.

Once cool store in an airtight container unless using straight away.

To Assemble the Pavlova just before serving

1 baked and cooled pavlova, as per recipe
2 green kiwi fruit and 2 gold kiwi fruit, sliced, or you choice of fruit
1/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted
Passionfruit curd, recipe below
Chantilly cream, recipe below
Remove the baking paper from the pavlova and place on a serving tray. (I recently saw Nigella Lawson prepare a pavlova and she simply turned it upside down
on a serving tray, removed the baking paper and decorated the pavlova. Once decorated no one could tell it was upside down.)
Spread the Chantilly cream over the pavlova, drizzle with as much of the curd as you like, decorate with slice kiwi fruit and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Recipe 2: Passionfruit Curd

Makes: 2 ½ cups / 600ml / 20 fl oz
150ml / approx. 1/2 cup + 2tsp strained passionfruit pulp
2 Tablespoons of passionfruit seeds
20ml / 1 metric Tbsp / 1 US Tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
170g / 1 1/2 sticks / 3/4 cup unsalted butter, chopped
200g / 9/10 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan place passionfruit pulp, lemon juice, butter and sugar. Cook over a medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
In a bowl place eggs and additional egg yolks and whisk eggs until combined.

Whisk the eggs and slowly pour in the passionfruit mixture. It is important to keep whisking while you do this. Strain the passionfruit curd mixture through a
sieve back into the saucepan to remove any “eggy bits”.

Add the passionfruit seeds and continue to cook over a low/medium heat until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. At low heat this can
take as long as 10 minutes. At medium heat it can take as little as 5 minutes.
Be careful not to overheat and overcook the mixture – you will then have passionfruit flavoured scrambled eggs. I like to not risk further cooking of the curd
by pouring the cooked mixture into a glass jug until cooled.

Once mixture has cooled place in a sterilised jar and store in the fridge. Passionfruit curd will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Recipe 3: Chantilly Cream

300ml / 1 1/4 cups / 10 fl oz full fat cream (about 35%)
16g / 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
5ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients.
Using a hand whisk or electric whisk, beat the cream in a stainless steel or glass or china bowl (not plastic­ doesn’t seem to whip as well).
It is whipped properly when it is still soft and billowy but holds its shape when the whisk is withdrawn.
Once the cream is whipped, cover and store in the fridge.

Making Mozzarella Cheese

Some time ago I spotted a cheese making kit at my local deli. Already having prepared ricotta using Mrs G’s method, I was ready to move on in my cheese making endeavours but not ready to do it on my own. This kit was perfect. The Begininners’ Italian Cheeses Kit by Mad Millie provided everything I needed to make macarpone, ricotta, ricotta salata and mozzarella.
This kit includes a thermometer and pipette (for measuring small quantities of liquid) which are required for subsequent kits.
You just need to obtain un-homogenized whole milk which can sometimes be difficult. I found a local brand from Misty Mountains Farms and I was set to make my own mozzarella cheese.

Calcium chloride is added to the milk which is then heated to 13C (55.5F) before mixing in diluted citric acid. This milk is then brought to a higher temperature of 32C (89.5F) and rennet is stirred in. After 30 minutes the curd forms and is cut and heated further to 42C (107.6F).

Once the correct temperature is reached the curds are scooped into a muslin lined colander and allowed to drip for 5 minutes.

Now the fun part! Put on a pair of rubber gloves and take a handful of curds. Place the curds in a bowl of 70C (158F) hot water for 20 seconds. Now, carefully stretch and fold the curd until it is smooth and flexible.

The balls of mozzarella are place into a bowl of icy salt water for 20 minutes and  then they are ready to eat!

The mozzarella is delicious fresh with red ripe tomatoes and basil but matured for a week in the refrigerator is wonderful on a pizza. Either way I’ll be making this regularly.

Conserva di Pomodori – Homemade Tomato Paste

While in most areas summer is tomato season, in tropical North Queensland tomato season is in our mild winter. Really there are only two seasons in the tropics – the cool and dry or the hot and wet. Traditional vegetables don’t cope well with the extreme heat and the monsoonal rains of our summer. This is a time best reserved for tropical vegetables like snake beans, winged beans, Ceylon spinach, sweet corn and you might even get some eggplants. During the Wet insects and bugs abound whereas during the Dry bugs are much more controllable. So, here we are getting close to the end of our tomato season and our ripe, red tomatoes are lush and abundant. We have enjoyed many tomato salads and tomato bruschetta – tomato this and tomato that. Now we want to preserve what is left.
Growing up, tomato day was an important day where my mum and dad rounded  my sister and I up to help with the important bottling of a years worth of tomato passata. Once we moved on with our own families my sister and I rejected tomato day “grateful” to buy pre-prepared passata from the supermarket. As time has gone by we have returned to our roots of preserving and are truly grateful for the traditions passed on to us by our parents. My sister at this time is busily processing  her tomatoes into passata. I, on the other hand with a much smaller garden, have chosen to process my tomatoes  further to create a conserva di pomodori or tomato paste which requires less storage room and is perfect for smaller quantities of tomatoes. 
As well as the luscious Marmande variety, I also grow the Roma tomato so it is with these two varieties that I made my paste. Homemade  tomato paste has a deep, mellow, caramelized flavour quite unlike the acidity of  store bought tomato paste. It makes the world of difference when added to your favourite dishes.
 Following an idea from one of my favourite cookbooks, My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino I began by coring and quartering the tomatoes and placing in a large saucepan. On this occasion I had about 5 kilograms of tomatoes.
Boil the tomatoes for about 30 minutes or until the are soft and starting to break down.
To make life easy for the tomato passata/pasta preserver, a spremipomodoro, literally translated “a tomato squeezer”, is essential. This inexpensive item is indispensable as it separates the skin and seeds of the tomato from the juicy flesh resulting in a smooth puree. 
It works quite simply – cooked tomato in the top, to one side comes the seeds and skin, to the other the tomato puree. 
I like to pass the skin and seeds through several times to obtain all of the precious puree.
Tomato puree minus seeds and skin – fantastic isn’t it! This is the same type of machine my parents, and I’m sure many Italian families, own.  
For the purpose of making tomato paste or conserva di pomodori, the resulting puree must be concentrated further. Turn the puree into a large pan – I used two pans to allow the steam to evaporate more easily. Add some salt about 35 grams for this quantity of tomatoes. Simmer the puree over medium heat for about 50 to 60 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it from scorching. This will reduce the quantity. As it thickens you may need to turn the heat down as it will bubble and spit. Stir often near the end. Towards the end preheat the oven to 93C (200F) and turn on the convection fan.
With a tablespoon of olive oil, lightly oil shallow lipped baking trays enough to take your puree. I needed three. The thinner the puree the sooner the moisture will evaporate and the puree will thicken. Spread the puree evenly and place the tray into the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After this time, remove the baking sheet from the oven and stir the puree with a rubber spatula so that is dries evenly and doesn’t form a crust. Re-spread the puree and return to the oven stirring and re-spreading the puree every 20 to 30 minutes. Due to evaporation the puree will no longer cover the entire trays. With a paper towel, remove any bits of tomato that cling to the edges or exposed bottom of the tray, or they will burn. 
After about 3 hours the puree will have thicken to a delicious paste. It will no longer be sauce-like but instead thick, stiff and a little sticky.
Let the conserva cool, then pack tightly into clean, sterilized jars with a spoon, tamping it down to make sure there are no air pockets. Level the surface with the back of the spoon. Cover completely with olive oil so that the paste is not exposed and refrigerate. After every use, level the surface of the paste and top with more oil so the paste remain completely submerged. It will keep for at least a year.   
I thank my parents for their traditions and beliefs instilled in me so that I may pass them on to the next generation. Even though we may wander, may we always return to our roots. 

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

This post has been a long time in the making. Eighteen months ago the Daring Baker’s Challenge for November 2009 was Cannoli. At the same time I had a telephone call from my sister inviting me along to a ricotta making lesson. Well, the two went hand in hand, didn’t they? The cannoli with the ricotta filling were a winner and I have made them on  many occasions since. But what about the ricotta making lesson?
My sister took me along to the home of  a lovely Italian lady who has been making ricotta at least once a week since she arrive from Italy over half a century ago using the same recipe and techniques. This is the recipe I give to you today exactly as Mrs G proudly showed us. I’m sure there is a scientific reason as to what is going on in this recipe but that was of no interest to our instructor.
Ricotta means “recooked”. True ricotta is made from the whey leftover from cheese making which is then allowed to acidify for 12-24 hours at room temperature. This acidified whey is reheated and the proteins in the whey form a fine curd.
This ricotta is made from whole milk and cream to which an acidulant is added in the form of calcium lactate to form the curds. I have seen other recipes using vinegar or lemon juice. Unlike true ricotta, this version is not low in fat but creamy and luscious. The calcium lactate was easily obtained from my local pharmacist, just ask! 
Mrs G’s Homemade Ricotta
2 teaspoons calcium lactate
2 litre whole milk
300ml pure cream 
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water with the calcium lactate and stir to dissolve.
In a non reactive pan mix the milk, cream and salt. Stir in the water/calcium lactate mixture and place over medium heat. Do not stir. Have ready a bowl of water and a ladle this will be used to control the temperature of the milk. I assume this was used before there ever was thermometers to measure that the temperature was correct. It just goes to show we don’t need fancy equipment to make good food.
As you see a bubble rise to surface pour a little ladleful of water to cool it. You will see the curds forming. It will not take long. Do not allow it to boil or heat for too long or your ricotta will be tough.  
When all the ricotta has come to the surface turn off the heat and ladle out the curds into a fine strainer. You can line it with cheese cloth but Mrs G never bothers.
Allow it to drain well – over night if you are using it for cannoli or as a filling for ravioli.
This ricotta is delicious served with crusty bread, salty crackers or mixed through hot pasta with a little Parmesan and herbs.

Scones, Jam and Cream

Watching Masterchef Australia’s team challenge the other night really had me thinking. Each team was given recipes from the Country Women’s Association (CWA)  for neapolitan cake, fruit cake, lamingtons, scones and jam. The idea was to cook morning tea for 100 CWA members. This was a dismal failure. The contestants have already shown us what they are capable of particularly in England creating amazing signature dishes of Heston Blumenthal. Or when Marion cooked off against British chef Martin Blunos. This  dish looked like a boiled egg with fingers of toast, but it was really a dessert of vanilla ice-cream, pastry cream and mango coulis served in an egg shell, with shortbread as the toast. But when it came to recreating the “simple” recipes of CWA the contestants came unstuck.
Have we ventured so far in presenting amazing, out of this world dishes that we have forgotten how to really  bake?
Baking is a science. Unlike cooking where one thinks of flavours and presentation, baking needs to be accurate and one needs to understand ingredients and cooking methods to be successful. And this takes practice. This is not a criticism of Masterchef Australia just a comment on the world of cooking as I see it. Once children experimented in the kitchen with recipes of toffee and cakes and maybe had failures and maybe had successes but learnt so much in the journey.
Somewhere along the line the basics were forgotten and I saw this in Masterchef Australia.
Making compote and coulis is one thing but making jam…..oh, the pleasure of preserving fruit at it’s prime. Everyone should be able to have the enjoyment and pride of taking a jar out of the pantry and say
“Try this jam, I made it myself!” 
Take Strawberry jam for example – so easy in the microwave. This way the freshness, vibrance and integrity of the fruit is retained! Here’s my recipe.
Strawberry Jam
500g strawberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups sugar
Wash and check the fruit then cut into pieces – small if you don’t like chunks. Place in a large microwave safe bowl with the lemon juice. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Remove. It should start smelling amazing already. Once you add the sugar the fruit won’t break down much more so if you want it smooth cook for a little longer. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return to the microwave, cook for 15 minutes on high, stopping every 5 minutes to stir and check. Pour into sterilized bottles. Seal.
I love homemade strawberry jam. It’s so fresh and tangy quite unlike the store bought variety.
So with jam we need scones. Recently my fellow blogger friend Ago posted her recipe for Blueberry Scones. I thought they were beautiful bursting with fruit and I will try them soon. There are many varieties and recipes for scones but for now here is my tried and true recipe for basic scones which should have been produced on the show I mentioned above.  This recipe always produces tender, moist scones.
3 cups SR flour
pinch salt
60g butter
1 1/4 cups milk, plus extra
Heat the oven to 230C.
Sift flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk with a flat bladed knife. Depending on the weather and your flour you may need a spoonful or two more of  milk. The dough should be sticky.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently for a brief 30 seconds. Pat into a flat round about 3 centimetres thick. Cut with a floured cutter pressing straight down and not twisting. Place on baking paper lined tray close together.
Bake in the hottest part of the preheated oven. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Turn the oven down after 10 minutes if you think the scones a browning too much. Remove scones from the oven and wrap in a clean teatowel. This will keep them soft and tender.
Remember never to cut your scones but break them apart gently with your fingers.
I hope that in our quest to reach “never-before-seen-heights” and to do what no chef as ever done we don’t forget the basics and the simple pleasures of baking and enjoying homebaked treats.