Chocolate Pavlovas

Cakes and Cupcakes

Yield: 8 individual pavlovas
Recipe: 129/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 301

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     It is clear to me now that I really am not good at making meringue desserts. I have tried twice now to make Pavlovas, and they always crack. Very finicky desserts, these. I don’t know what I am doing wrong but I can never get them right. I followed tricks on the internet to try to prevent it from cracking, the main one being to let them cool down in the oven after baking by shutting off the temperature and cracking the door open. However, by doing this I think the Pavlovas continued to bake and they were sadly overbaked and quite dry. I also put one blueberry too many on the baked and cooled Pavlova, and it simply collapsed under the weight. Sadly I was not a fan of this recipe, not only because of my technical failures, but the taste was also quite strange to me. I did not enjoy the mixture of balsamic vinegar and chocolate, although it did smell good as it was baking. Disappointing effort on my part, but it was still nice to try! Let me know if you have any tips and secrets for a fool-proof Pavlova that doesn’t crack!

Update – I have been munching on the unassembled Pavlova shell over the past couple of days and I actually quite like it. Perhaps without the cultured crème fraîche I can appreciate more the flavour of the chocolate pavlova itself. Not all is lost.

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Crème Fraîche
  • 4 cups mixed fresh berries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Cut two sheets of parchment paper to fit 2 baking trays, and trace 4 circles about 4 inches across on each paper. Place them on the trays, marker side down. 
  2. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly add the sugar and continue whipping at high speed until the whites hold a stiff peak when the beaters are lifted. The egg whites should be thick and glossy.
  3. Stir the cocoa powder and cornstarch over the whites and fold in gently.
  4. Quickly fold in the balsamic vinegar and vanilla extract. 
  5. Dollop a generous cupful of meringue onto each circle drawn onto the parchment paper. Gently press an indent into the centre of each, but don’t flatten or spread the meringue too much.
  6. Bake the Pavlovas for 75 to 90 minutes, until they are dry on the outside. Let them cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
  7. Serve the Pavlovas with a dollop of crème fraîche on top of each, and sprinkle with fresh berries. The Pavlovas will keep, unassembled, in an airtight container for up to a day.

Valerie

Lemon Posset

Custards, Puddings and Soufflés

Yield: 6 individual possets
Recipe: 72/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 207

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     Who doesn’t love a good lemon dessert? It feels light, refreshing and tends to make you feel less guilty than eating a piece of double chocolate cake with caramel frosting. Simply put, this dessert is one of the simplest, fastest and most scrumptious desserts that I have ever made. It takes less than 5 minutes to make and best of all requires no baking! With its rich lemon flavor it is sure to be a people-pleaser wherever you may bring them. The texture of this egg-less custard is just perfect: soft and firm at the same time and almost pudding-like. Heavenly, I say! 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (not low-fat !)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepot, whisk together the whipping cream, sour cream, sugar and lemon zest over medium-low heat just until the sugar has melted.
  2. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract.
  3. Pour this mixture into 6 serving dishes (glass or ceramic) and let it set at least 6 hours, up to 24 hours.

Notes from Anna:

  • Since this custard is not baked and contains no eggs, its consistency is more fluid than a traditional set custard. It is eaten with a spoon and turns fluid once stirred.

Valerie

Amaretti Biscuits

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: about 6 dozen small cookies
Recipe: 71/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 34

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     Finding the time to bake when you’re a PhD student is much harder than I anticipated. This makes me sad. However, I am back to baking! These almond cookies are very good and taste a lot like macarons ! They are crunchy on the outside but have a softer centre. What I particularly enjoy about this recipe is that it is simple to do and generates a lot of (small) cookies. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1  1/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and line 3 baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites at high speed until they are foamy.
  3. Slowly pour in the sugar while whipping and continue to whip until the whites hold a medium peek.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the ground almonds, icing sugar and cornstarch.
  5. Add half of the almond mixture to the whipped egg whites and gently fold in. Repeat with the remaining half.
  6. Stir in the almond extract and fold in the mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into a large piping bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe 1-inch cookies onto the prepared trays, leaving 1 inch between each cookie.
  8. Let the cookies sit for 10 minutes to air-dry, then bake them for about 20 minutes, just until they start to brown. Let them cool completely on the tray before storing in an airtight container.

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Valerie

Chewy Brownies

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: about 16-20 brownies
Recipe: 67/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 291

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    Some people are not as fortunate as most people and are gluten-intolerant or even allergic. This makes me sad. Just to think of all the desserts that I could not eat and that I would have to miss out on makes me realize how very difficult it must be. Not only that, but gluten is in a plethora of foods: breads, muffins, pizza and pie dough, beer, and the list goes on. What made we grasp how much gluten is present is that whenever I bring baked goods to work, which is pretty often, a friend of mine who is gluten-intolerant can never eat anything I make. So while everyone is enjoying dessert and licking their fingers, she can only look at it from afar and ponder on her unfortunate circumstance. I always feel bad when I realize that she can’t have what I made (because I tend to forget) and I always told her that I would make her something one day. It took a couple of months but this dessert was for her.  

    At first she was a bit disappointed because she thought they were normal brownies and that she couldn’t have any, but to see her excitement when she came to realize that they were gluten-free gave me a very happy feeling. She simply loved them and ate a couple (I’ll never say how many!), and everyone else loved them too! They were a bit skeptic when they saw they these chewy brownies were without gluten, but they all admitted their surprise at the delicious taste. These brownies are chewy, moist, chocolatey and nutty at the same time. You may not even notice that they are gluten-free! Plus, I also like that they are dairy-free as well! So if ever you have a friend or a colleague that is gluten-intolerant, try this simple recipe and you will make a new friend, that much is certain. 

Ingredients:

  • 1  1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment so that the paper comes up the sides of the pan.
  2. With a hand or stand mixer, stir together the sugar, cocoa and vegetable oil until combined.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix until the mixture is homogenous.
  4. Stir in the rice flour, cornstarch and salt until well incorporated.
  5. Add in the walnut pieces and mix until just combined.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  7. Bake the brownies for about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean and the top loses its shine. Cool the brownies to room temperature before slicing.

Valerie