Cats are quite balletic creatures. The effortless way Merlot pulls a 180-degree arabesque-type move to lick her bottom is hugely impressive. I wish I were that flexible. Not to lick myself, of course. I’m not that kind of girl. But it would be quite handy when I’m crouching down to clean my industrial-sized oven.
I hung up my point shoes many years ago and I’m afraid the closest I come to anything remotely balletic these days, is when I bake a Pavlova. Created for and named after Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, way back in 1926, this is one of my all-time favourite desserts to make. Why? Because it’s zero-effort/high-impact ratio is just brilliant. Whip egg whites and sugar together, bake it a bit and top it with luscious cream and any fruit of your choice. What could be easier?
For me late summer is like a 40-year old woman – simply exquisite. All the wonderful early-summer things are still around – berries, litchies, mangoes, peaches – but I’m also seeing grapes, plums and early-season pears. Last Saturday I found some Karoo figs at the Oranjezicht City Farm market.
Dark purple outside, bright pink inside and all honeyed sweetness, I just knew I had to do something special with them. And here it is: my Brown Sugar and Almond Pavlova with Brandied Cream, Figs and Stem Ginger… It’s a long title sure, but then Anna was a grand lady.
All you need is…
whites of 4 extra large eggs
¾ cup castor sugar
4 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp cornflour (Maizena)
½ tsp white vinegar
2 tbs flaked almonds
350ml fresh whipping cream
2 tbs castor sugar
1 tsp good brandy or cognac (optional)
punnet of figs (preferably the purple-skinned ones)
stem ginger in syrup (Illovo makes one)
1 tbs flaked almonds, toasted
Preheat your oven to 150°C. Whip the egg whites. (If you can turn the bowl over without the egg whites moving, they’re ready.) Now gradually add the brown sugar, whisking all the time. (You could use an electric hand mixer for this, but a proper stand mixer like a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid works much, much better. Only total wombats attempt this with a balloon whisk!) Gradually add the castor sugar, a tablespoon at a time, while whisking. Add the cornflour and vinegar with the last spoon of sugar. The mixture should be stiff and shiny. Gently fold in the almonds.
Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Meringue sticks to pans like ticks to a junkyard mutt, so I usually spray the baking paper with some Spray ’n Cook too, just to be safe. Dish the meringue mix in a circle on the baking paper. Place in the oven and turn the temperature down to 140°C. Bake for 60-90 minutes until the meringue is crisp on the outside but still slightly chewy on the inside. Turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven until completely cool. (You can make the meringue up to this stage the day before and wrap it in cling film.)
Whip the cream until firm with 2 tbs sugar. (Taste it after you’ve added the first spoon as you may find it’s sweet enough for you.) Fold the brandy into the cream. Dish the cream onto the meringue base, add figs, thin slices of preserved ginger, 1 tbs toasted almonds and a drizzle of the ginger syrup. (I had some dried pomegranate seeds lying around, so I added those as well, just for the pretty.) Serve immediately.