Recipe: Hot Spiced Cider Punch

For Bookworm, with love.

This is the basic for-a-crowd recipe that I always make around Thanksgiving and Christmas — with everybody hanging around the house, it just sits in a big pot on the stove, next to the mugs and the ladle, and I add to it as needed through the day. I don’t know how to cut it down for fewer servings, unless you were to make it once and freeze it in small batches.

I have, in the past, taken the time to deliberately dry orange and lemon peels (see link for a how-to) and store them for use in this cider punch, and that works fine. However, I find that we typically have citrus fruit in the house this time of year anyway since the high school FFA citrus orders arrive the first or second week of December, so I just slice up fresh and add them to the pot.

This recipe has a lot of stretch and give to it, and will accept any number of substitutions, so long as you keep tasting and adjusting. Like it sweeter? add a little more brown sugar, or maple syrup if you have it on hand.
Like it tangy? Add a bit more lemon juice, or leave the sugar out.
I love spice, so I throw lots of cloves and ginger in, but you can adjust the amounts of whole spices however you like. Add a few green cardamom pods or whole star anise if you have access to them (I don’t). If you hate having stuff floating around in your cup and don’t have a strainer to ladle the punch through, you can tie up the spices in a cheesecloth bag.
If you can’t find cider at the grocery, wing it with apple juice instead. Use the frozen juice concentrates if you have to. Because there are are so many flavors in this punch, I can’t taste that much difference. Cider does have more “body” than plain juice, but it is considerably more expensive, too. You decide; either way it will be good.
I tend to buy decaffeinated tea because there are people in my family who are very sensitive to caffeine, but of course the regular works fine.
Like it spiked? Add in a few ounces of bourbon, applejack, or spiced rum, to your taste.
See? That sort of thing. Play with it, have fun. I always enlist Bookworm as my taste-tester when she’s home.

Ingredients:
3 quarts to 1 gallon apple cider or apple juice
2 whole oranges, sliced (or substitute 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, or 3-4 large pieces of dried orange peel)
1 whole lemon, sliced (or substitute 2 tablespoons of juice – bottled is fine)
2-3 individual teabags of black tea, chai, Earl Grey or herbal spice (or combination)
2-4 cinnamon sticks, broken (I hit them with a meat tenderizer – small pieces give more cinnamon flavor)
1-2 tablespoons whole cloves
1/2 – 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
3-4 small pieces crystallized ginger, or 1-2 peeled disks of fresh ginger
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, to taste

(For variety, I sometimes add a thawed can of this apple-cherry juice, and a cup of water. The apple-cranberry juice is good, too.)

Directions:
Pour juice or cider into a large pot and add the citrus slices and whole spices. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture begins to simmer (tiny bubbles forming at the bottom, and/or wisps of steam rise from the top). Then turn heat to very low.

Steep the teabags for 4 minutes separately in 2-3 cups of boiling water. Then, unless you are only using herbal tea (such as Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice), remove the teabags from the liquid. Heat and time will make black tea taste bitter. Add this brewed tea to the cider mixture, and then add brown sugar until you’re happy with the taste.

Ladle through a strainer to remove the spices and citrus peels. Enjoy!

 

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Scent Diary, Jan. 14-20, 2012

Well, finally, Scent Diary returns. Can’t really explain why it took a hiatus, except that writing it was boring me to tears and then when you stop writing it for several days you can’t go back and remember what went on… so I just picked up again on a Monday, and now it’s back.  BTW, all photos except the hot chocolate one (which has a Flickr link) are mine.

Snow Jan 2013Monday, Jan. 14 – Wet, raining buckets. If it were colder, we’d be getting snow. We’ve had warmer-than-usual temperatures all winter, and I for one do not like it. The CEO’s happy; the warmer weather is easier on cattle since they don’t have to eat constantly to keep their body temperatures up. But I like my couple of months of cold weather. I was a kid in the 1970s, which was one of the coldest decades of that century, and of course cold winters seem normal to me. SOTD: Guerlain Metallica, which I see that I have never reviewed… it’s nice. I have a decant.

Tuesday, Jan. 15 – Wet, still raining buckets. SOTD: Jacomo Silences edp Sublime. I like it a lot; it reminds me of Chanel No. 19 in the current edp version. (Well, I say current. It’s not available in the US, but I ran across it in the Rome airport Duty Free shop when we went to Malta in 2010, and I spritzed some on both times we were there. I don’t even know if Chanel still makes it or not, but I found it far preferable to the current edt, which seems thin and sharp.) It lasted very well through my eye appointment, the first in about six years.

Regarding that checkup: my eyes are in good health, but I have a small amount of myopia in addition to the age-related close-up focusing problem that has been annoying the pants off me for at least three months now. So my prescription is for, get this, bifocals. Gah. I won’t have to wear them all the time, but for any task where I’m reading and doing something else at the same time (say, cooking from a new recipe, or crocheting on the couch while watching TV). Bleah. In any case, I went ahead and ordered my new glasses, thin metal frames with no rim on the bottom of the lenses. I rather like them.

The other fragrance that new Silences reminds me of is Deneuve, so I pulled that out once the Silences wore off and wore it.

Wednesday, Jan. 16 – Wet. Still raining buckets. SOTD: Chanel No. 19. Wearing this, and discussing it with friends on Facebook, made me want to get out all the green-floral-almost-chypres I know and test like side by side on my arm, so I could run my nose up and down my arm as if it were a smell-harmonica. Weird, I know. But wearing Silences edp Sublime yesterday made me think of No. 19 EdP, which I don’t own (and which is d/c at least in the US, though they had it at the Rome airport Duty-Free in 2010). And I was also thinking of L’Eau de Chloe, Deneuve, and Silences. Oh, and AG Heure Exquise as well. Very similar compositions those.

Not feeling so awesome today. After dinner (yummy leftover pasta), I took a bath and went to bed. SOBedtime: Shalimar Light.

Thursday, Jan. 17 – Wet. Supposed to snow later today as temperatures drop. The CEO snurfled my neck this morning and said, “What are you wearing? You smell smoky.” SEEEE? Shalimar, even Shali Lite, SMELLS LIKE WOODSMOKE. On me, anyway. SOTD, post-shower: Black Cashmere.

Poor Bookworm is driving herself crazy with the statistics for her Science Fair Project. Each Virginia Governor’s School student must prepare one, and it’s a grade. Last year was bad enough, but this year she’s supposed to do something different with her survey statistics and she says she doesn’t understand how to interpret them. The snow will prevent her from going to school tomorrow to use the school computers, so I’ll have to download the software so she can do it here.

It did snow – we got maybe 6-7 inches! It was supposed to continue snowing through the night, but it had stopped by 8pm. More Black Cashmere for bedtime.

Hayley and kids Jan 2013Friday, Jan. 18 – Snow on the ground, sun in the sky. It’s lovely. The boys were up early to put on snow gear and go out into the pasture behind the house, where there’s a slope that’s good for sledding. The dog was absolutely beside herself with joy. She likes to roll around in snow, and she loves playing with the kids, and both at once is her personal (canine-al?) idea of heaven. Neighbor kid, Makayla, came over to sled as well, so there were plenty of people for Hayley to chase around.

Bookworm was feeling sorry for herself this morning at breakfast: beautiful snow she doesn’t have time to play in, and this Science Fair project that she hates is driving her crazy, and she wishes she had never done Governor’s School in the first place, and if high school is driving her crazy how is she going to manage college? Poor baby. The CEO spent some time commiserating about Science Fair and talking to her about the benefits of taking the hard classes now and getting used to what will be expected from her in college, and I think it helped. Eventually, she did go outside and sled for about an hour, and it seemed to do her good.

Bookworm sleddingSOTM: Vintage Coty L’Aimant PdT. After lunch, performed all manner of embarrassing beauty rituals, such as coloring my hair (I am getting a few gray hairs here and there, but mostly what bothers me is the way my hair goes a dull light brown in the winter and takes color away from my face) and neatening my brows. Showered. SOTA: Antonio Visconti Alhambra, a sample sent by a friend. I know very little about the line and the few notes I remember from looking up the fragrance online include classic florals on an oriental base. It’s got some nice orange blossom and rose and a raspy, Shalimar-like opoponax/vanilla vibe.

Picked up my new bifocals today. I’m getting used to them. My sister-in-law E and her kids are visiting her mom, so they all came over to have dinner with us.

Saturday, Jan. 19 – Still snow on the ground but a clear sky. My niece and nephew came over and played in the snow with the boys and Makayla. They made a snowball five feet tall and then had to quit because they couldn’t roll it anymore, and after that my nephew Curiosity made a snow chair, complete with ottoman, side table, and cup holder… so of course he had to come up to the house and ask for a cup of hot chocolate to PUT in the cup holder! It amused me no end. SOTD: Organza Indecence.

The CEO took Bookworm to a track meet today. She was only running one event, the mile, and she hadn’t run that since she was a freshman! She placed 10th, not fabulous, but decent. Her time was maybe 6-7 seconds slower than she’d wanted, but it was a PR for her.

I ran out of the prepackaged hot cocoa mix packets, so I dug around and found a recipe for my own. Here it is, adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe:

Hot Chocolate
Hot Cocoa Mix

2 cups powdered sugar (I didn’t have any, having finished the bag making icing for my birthday cake last week, so I threw 2 cups of granulated in the blender and spun it around for about twenty seconds. That makes it “superfine” and more dissolvable. Works just great.)

1 cup cocoa (Alton recommends Dutched cocoa, but I didn’t have any of that either. The Hershey’s Dark cocoa I had on hand worked just fine.)

2 cups powdered milk

½ cup dry coffee creamer (I had plain, but you could probably use flavored if you want)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cornstarch (optional, I didn’t use it)

Mix all ingredients together and store in jars. (Alton also recommends a pinch of cayenne pepper, which Bookworm and I would probably like, but I left it out because Taz and The CEO don’t really care for spice heat.) To prepare, spoon 2-3 heaping tablespoons into a mug and add 6-8 ounces of hot, not boiling, water. Stir thoroughly and top with mini-marshmallows if you wish.

We made so many mugs of hot cocoa that I RAN OUT of clean mugs!! All 13 of them (yeah, I have a lot of mugs) wound up in the sink or the dishwasher.

Sunday, Jan. 20 – Good church service today. SOTD: Dior Dolce Vita edt. I sold the bottle I had because I just wasn’t wearing it often, but some kind soul sent me a 2ml sample. I do still have two tiny 5ml parfum bottles – so pretty, and the juice is incredibly rich.

Bookworm discovered that she had a crucial error in her raw data, so she and The CEO spent most of the day correcting the error and re-running her statistics tests. The boys and I went to see my parents, who’d wanted to have us over to celebrate my birthday. Mom fed us turkey breast, broccoli with cheese sauce, re-stuffed potatoes, strawberry pretzel salad, fresh rolls, and scalloped apples, with chocolate cake for dessert. YUM. We Skyped with my brother in Florida and then my sister in Texas. (My brother-in-law is due back from Afghanistan sometime in the 1st or 2nd week of February, and my sister will be SO GLAD to have him home.)

On the drive home, I discovered an absolutely delicious smell clinging to the sleeves of my leather jacket, which I hadn’t worn in several days at least. Couldn’t identify it at first, which was frustrating because it smelled so wonderful. But finally it came to me: a bit of Cuir de Lancome, plus some Amouage Memoir Woman. So when we got home, I spritzed a bit of each. Wow, it was fabulous!

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Nell’s Boiled Custard Recipe

 

Photo courtesy AllRecipes.com.
Photo courtesy AllRecipes.com

I mentioned my grandmother’s boiled custard recipe the other day in conjunction with a) Christmas and b) Micallef Ylang in Gold. As requested, here’s the recipe.

But first, a few words about Southern boiled custard: it’s a thin, pourable custard which is traditionally served over cake or fruit, or sipped from glasses a la eggnog, or spooned from cups as if it were soup. It can be served warm or cold, but not in between. Do not expect a puddinglike custard. Do not expect pastry creme. It’s more like crème anglaise. Boiled custard is made of similar ingredients, but the texture will be more like heavy cream than something that can fill a pastry.

We always had it on Christmas Eve, usually spooned up from shallow bowls or cups, with a slice of pound cake on the plate and/or a small island of vanilla ice cream slowly melting in the center of the cup. I often asked my grandmother for the recipe, but she told me it was tricky to make and the best way to learn how to do it properly was to watch her make it sometime.

That time never came. But recently I found a recipe on the internet that was designed for microwave cooking – and then my mother pointed out that her version of Nell’s boiled custard recipe, scaled down to produce an amount more easily consumed by a family, was included in the church cookbook she gave me for my birthday last year. (I had, somehow, missed seeing it while perusing the thing – probably because she’d named it “Ron’s Mom’s Boiled Custard” instead of “Boiled Custard.” Go figure.)

As it turned out, I liked the taste of the internet version I found better than Mom’s version, but the texture of hers was far superior. So I adapted both versions to produce this one that has both the velvety, creamy texture of Nell’s stand-over-the-stove-stirring-for-hours recipe and its sweet, egg-rich taste.

So. Here ya go. And please bear with my explanations and overly-detailed cooking instructions. Nell was right – even with the microwave, it’s tricky to make, but follow the step-by-step instructions and it should come out just fine. My microwave uses 1200 watts of power with an automatic turntable, so the cooking times are on the short side and I don’t have to stir or reposition the bowl often. If yours is a lower-powered appliance, just cook a little longer. If it doesn’t have a turntable, you’ll probably want to stop the microwave every 1-2 minutes and stir to prevent hot spots.

Ingredients:
• 4 cups whole milk (you can use 2%, but good grief, this is dessert – live a little)
• 2/3 to 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 4 tsp all-purpose flour
• 4 eggs
• 1-2 tsp vanilla, to taste (and do not even bother with the artificial stuff)

Cooking instructions:

Combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl; heat on medium-high (60% or 70% power) in the microwave until hot but not boiling. Meanwhile, place the eggs and flour, in that order, into a blender or food processor, and blend on low speed until smooth but not frothy. When the milk mixture is hot, turn the blender on low and add ½ cup of the milk mixture to the eggs while the blender is still running. Add another ½ cup of milk mixture in the same way. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the hot milk mixture, whisking until completely combined.

Place the bowl on a microwave-safe plate to confine any escaping mixture, then microwave the combined egg-milk mixture for about 3 minutes on 60-70% power (medium-high), then whisk thoroughly. Return the bowl to the microwave, set the time and power for another 3 minutes on 60% power, and STAY BY THE MICROWAVE. Do not leave. From a few feet away, keep an eye on the bowl. If the phone rings, let it ring. If your kids come howling into the kitchen, whining about who hit who, let them howl (unless there is blood or broken bones, of course). If at any time during the second 3-minute cooking time, the volume of the mixture in the bowl suddenly seems to grow larger, STOP THE COOKING, and I mean IMMEDIATELY. Take the bowl out of the microwave, and if the mixture seems curdled, pour it right back into the blender and blend on medium-low speed until the mixture seems smooth.

(Apparently this does not happen to my mother, only to me, and I suppose my microwave might be flexing its magic biceps more than hers does, or something like that. You are actually trying to avoid this situation, because this means that the mixture has, in fact, boiled, and you may have little cooked bits of egg instead of a velvety veil of YUM. However – oh well. The blender will fix it right up, and whatever you’re missing won’t matter because it tastes good. Edit, as of 12/30/14: I have a new microwave, and it does not volcano-boil the custard. Yay!)

If the mixture behaves itself and does NOT do this boil-up volcano thing in the bowl, the only thing left is to check to see whether it is thick enough. The time-honored phrase for this state is “thick enough to coat the back of a spoon,” and while this description makes sense to me, I’ve seen what the stuff ought to look like, and apparently the phrase is confusing to a whole generation of people whose grandmothers did not make boiled custard (or gravy, for that matter). What you do to test if it’s “thick enough to coat the back of a spoon” is this: dip a cold spoon into the mixture. Then hold it up horizontally, with the convex back of the spoon facing up, and swipe a finger across the spoon. Your finger should leave a line in the mixture; if the line fills itself in, the mixture isn’t thick enough. If it’s too thin, cook another minute at 50% power. If still too thin, try again at 50% power, at one-minute intervals, until thick enough.

At this point, add vanilla to taste – I like lots of vanilla in mine, so I use the higher amount – and pour the custard either into bowls, if you’re serving it warm, or into Mason jars to place into the refrigerator to cool, as I do.

You can make (alcoholic) eggnog from a boiled-custard base, very easily – add ½ oz. to 1 oz. of rum or bourbon, or your liquor of choice, per serving, and grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top. We don’t really do alcoholic eggnog around here, but it’s easy to add a bit of freshly grated cinnamon stick as well.

Spoon it up and enjoy the velvety sweetness! It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week… I think. It never lasts that long in mine. You might have to shake the Mason jar before serving.

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Thursday Blogger Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli Soup

Zuppe di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup)

This recipe has evolved from a simpler one that The CEO and I had at an Italian restaurant called Norberto’s back in the dark ages when we were dating. That soup was basically chicken broth with some minced garlic, tomatoes, white beans and small pasta shapes, and it was delicious. However, I like soup with, you know, chunks of stuff in it, and so when I recreated it for family eating, I added some ingredients that seemed to want to go into the soup and join the hearty-eating party… This is terrific for using up leftover chicken and pasta, and it’s relatively quick. I have made and let it simmer only about 35 minutes, and it’s still good, though I prefer to let it cook a little longer. Continue reading Thursday Blogger Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli Soup

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Hot Fudge Sundae Cake recipe, and review of The Girl Who Chased the Moon

It’s another TBR!  Thursday Blogger Recipe or Thursday Book Review, and because I’m feeling generous today’s a twofer: you get one of each.

Taz and I made this cozy treat after dinner last night. Yum.

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake (from Betty Crocker) Continue reading Hot Fudge Sundae Cake recipe, and review of The Girl Who Chased the Moon

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TBR Thursday Blogger Recipe: Scalloped Apples

This is my mother’s recipe, and like most of her recipes, it wasn’t written down. It’s surprisingly difficult (or maybe just annoying!) to write down quantities for a recipe you’ve never measured before, but I’ve finally done it so I could share one of our favorite family dishes. Everything is in English measurements, not metric, and I apologize for that in advance. Also, Mom and I always cook this in the microwave, so that’s how the directions are written. I suppose you could cook this on the stove, but there is a danger of burning what’s on the bottom of the pan.

Summer Bounty

Image is from Saynine at Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

The reason we use Golden Delicious is threefold: first, they soften without losing their shape and becoming applesauce. They are good cooking apples, though not very tart, which is fine for this almost-dessert-like application. Second, they turn a truly lovely gold color, like yellow fall leaves. Third, my parents have a Golden Delicious tree in the backyard, and Mom was always looking for ways to preserve them. The cooked dish freezes well.

Continue reading TBR Thursday Blogger Recipe: Scalloped Apples

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More news on upcoming blog changes, and the inaugural TBR post

Woman cooking in a kitchen, from Wikimedia Commons

Mals has been cooking up something!

First: after hours of slaving over a hot computer yesterday, I managed to set up my blog at its new webhost and port over all the posts.  Yay!  I will need to do some tweaking of it, like adding the sidebar widgets, updating the blogroll, and choosing a new theme (since this one is no longer available, for some reason).  I’ll also be adding page breaks so that a longer list of posts will appear on the main page; to read the full post you’ll need to click once on the title or the “click here to continue reading” jump link.  

The new blog will probably go live next week.  I’ll leave a redirect up on this site.  I plan to maintain this blog site rather than delete it, but no new posts will appear at this location after the official move.

Second: ads will appear gradually on the new site.  I plan to keep them confined to certain areas, like sidebars, headers or footers, and will not use pop-ups because those things annoy the fire out of me. They will be content-linked, so I assume they’ll relate to perfume and books.

Also, I have a new weekly posting plan.  When I started blogging in 2009, the plan was to offer three reviews a week.  If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll notice that that idea fell by the wayside about the time that I started doing NaNoWriMo in November of that year, and from time to time all I’ve regularly posted has been Scent Diary.  However, since I would like to get back to posting more frequently, I have worked up a new schedule, as follows:

Continue reading More news on upcoming blog changes, and the inaugural TBR post

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Recipe: Nell's Stuffed Peppers

I grew up thinking that “stuffed peppers” meant this.  It was one of my dad’s absolute favorite dishes, one he would frequently request in the summer, and I was always thrilled to find it on the stove.  I was terribly disappointed at a friend’s house once, when finding out that to her mom, “stuffed peppers” meant green pepper cups filled with a mixture of rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce.  Not that Mrs. Fowler’s stuffed peppers were bad, mind you – they were actually pretty delicious! – but they were definitely not Nell’s stuffed peppers.

This was a recipe created by my grandmother’s mother, the end of one summer more than a hundred years ago, when her garden was full of corn and peppers and tomatoes and she was at her wits’ end as to what to do with them! 

 

Nell’s Corn-Stuffed Peppers (adapted from recipe created by Emma Zetta Austin)

2 cups corn, either fresh cut off the cob or frozen and thawed

1-2 tomatoes, diced, about 1 cup

1/2 to ¾ cup shredded Colby or cheddar cheese

½ cup fresh (soft) bread crumbs

3 or 4 medium green peppers

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp dried basil (optional)

1 slice raw bacon, cut into 1” strips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Halve green peppers lengthwise and remove seeds and membranes.  Steam in steamer basket 3-5 minutes, or cook in microwavable dish, with ½ cup added water, until just tender.  Drain green pepper “boats” and set aside.

Mix corn, tomato, cheese, crumbs, and seasonings in a medium bowl.  Mixture should be moist enough to stick together well.  Add more bread crumbs if too wet; add water 1 Tbsp. at a time if too dry.  (The moisture level usually depends on that of the tomato.)

Spray baking dish with nonstick spray.  Fill pepper halves with corn mixture and top each with one piece of bacon, if using. Place in baking dish.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

These are wonderful with ham or roast beef.  The corn mixture without green peppers is fantastic with baked fish, too.  The recipe may be increased, and filled, unbaked peppers freeze well. 

Because my dad no longer eats peppers at all due to digestive complaints, and two of my kids don’t like them, I often use fewer green peppers and prop them on a bed of the corn mixture.  I sometimes substitute pepper jack cheese for the cheddar; if so, I eliminate the basil.

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Recipe: Layered Raspberry-Almond Pavlova

Here’s the recipe of the dessert that Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Vermeille reminds me most of — it’s a favorite “special summer treat” of my family’s, and I’ll be upfront with you that it takes some time and effort to make.  It’s worth it, though: light as a feather, ethereal and yet rich.

The CEO did his master’s degree in Agricultural Economics in New Zealand, on a Fulbright Scholarship.  Pavlova was a dessert he encountered there and immediately enjoyed, and when I made a dessert called “Fresh Berry Meringue Torte” from my much-loved copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, he sat up straight in his chair and exclaimed, “But this is Pavlova!  How did you know I love this?”

A brief history of Pavlova-the-dessert: it’s named, of course, after Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian prima ballerina.  Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated it as an homage to Anna Pavlova during one of her tours there in the 1920s.  Pavlova is essentially made of three components: baked meringue, whipped cream, and fruit.  The meringue can also incorporate such varied ingredients as cocoa powder, espresso powder, and ground nuts.  The baked meringue specific to Pavlova is supposed to be a bit soft in the center, with a crispy meringue-cookie texture on the outside.  Traditionally, the topping is whipped heavy cream with strawberries and kiwifruit, the tangy fruit contrasting with the sweet meringue and cream, but of course you see pavlovas made with all kinds of soft fruit: raspberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes, even passionfruit pulp.  Here’s a link to some other recipes which are perhaps more authentically Kiwi and/or Aussie, but I’ll also share mine, which is made in layers (not authentic, but yummy anyway).   The proportions and basic directions are from The Cake Bible, but interjections (and faux creme fraiche recipe) are mine.

I really like to use dacquoise (sometimes called meringue japonais), as the ground nuts in it cut some of the sweetness of the meringue.  Also, creme fraiche is far tangier than straight cream.  Peaches and blackberries sometimes grace my pavlova.

I admit this is one of the most involved and fiddly desserts I ever make, and I don’t make it often. Brownies tend to be more the kids’ speed anyway. The directions are long, but it’s really not all that complicated, and it doesn’t really require special equipment. You will need, at minimum, a large baking sheet, a whisk, a blender or food processor, a spoon, a rubber spatula, an electric mixer (I used to have only a hand mixer, and it turned out fine), an oven, and a refrigerator. Basically, if you’re going to cook anything, you’ve probably already got what you need on hand, in terms of equipment. So don’t worry.

Here’s Part I: Dacquoise Discs

¾ to 1 cup toasted, peeled, and finely ground almonds or hazelnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup + 1 Tbsp. superfine sugar (if you can’t find this at the grocery, just pulse regular sugar for a few minutes in your food processor or blender, then measure to get the right amount)

¾ cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

4 large egg whites (fresh – don’t use the packaged variety)

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Optional: whisk 2 Tbsp. cocoa into the powdered sugar. Only add this if you’re using fruit that marries well with chocolate, like raspberries and strawberries.

All ingredients should be at room temperature (yes, even the eggs). Preheat oven to 200° F. Important: don’t bother trying to make this when it’s humid. Seriously. It will be a soggy mess. If your kitchen is air-conditioned, though, you’re probably okay. You’ll know whether it feels humid in your kitchen or not.

Line a heavy baking sheet with a nonstick liner (like Silpat) or heavy foil. Trace a 9-inch cake pan onto the foil, or make a template to slip under the liner. If you’d like, you can make three 7-inch discs instead. Don’t line the baking sheet with parchment paper because meringue and dacquoise will frequently stick to it.

Place the ground nuts, cornstarch, half the superfine sugar, and all the powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Set aside in a small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat at medium speed. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, gradually add the remaining superfine sugar and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

Fold in the reserved nut mixture with a large rubber spatula. Be gentle. As soon as it’s mixed, spread the dacquoise mixture onto the foil or Silpat liner. You can pipe it on if you want to be fancy, but I never bother.

Bake. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, bake the dacquoise for an hour and then leave it overnight in the turned-off oven. If, like me, you have an electric oven, bake the dacquoise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it’s dry but not browned. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR FOR THE FIRST 45 MINUTES, or the dacquoise will crack. Of course, it will still taste fine.

Let the dacquoise cool completely before trying to move it from the liner or foil. The best way to get the discs off the foil, I’ve found, is to cut around the discs with scissors, leaving an inch or so all around the dacquoise. Then pick up a disc and hold it upside-down in your nondominant hand, while you gently peel the foil away from the disc. Don’t pry the dacquoise off the foil; that way lies madness and dacquoise crumbling in your hands, as I know to my sorrow.

Meringue variation (I admit I like the dacquoise because it’s less sweet, and because I love the flavor of nuts, but not everyone can eat nuts):

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ cup + 1 tablespoon superfine sugar

1 cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

 Optional: whisk 2 tablespoons of cocoa into the powdered sugar. This has the benefit of reducing the sweetness level somewhat, although chocolate doesn’t go well with some fruits.

As with the dacquoise, have everything at room temperature, preheat oven to 200° F, and don’t make on humid days. Also prepare the pan with foil or Silpat liner, just as described above. In a mixing bowl, beat whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, and beat at medium speed while gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the superfine sugar. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, add 1 tablespoon superfine sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly, gradually beat in remaining superfine sugar and beat until very stiff and glossy.

Sift the powdered sugar over the meringue and fold in, gently, using a large rubber spatula. Immediately spread (or pipe, if you insist) onto the baking sheet, creating 2 large or 3 small discs. Bake as directed in the dacquoise recipe. Cool completely before removing from the foil or liner as described above.

And Part II: Creme Fraiche Filling

 There are three ways you can do this… well, maybe four, if you are lucky enough to find real crème fraiche at your grocery. Assuming you aren’t, here are your options.

 Option A: If you have a coupla days, make your own crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cup heavy (whipping) cream

4 teaspoons buttermilk

1 ½ tablespoon sugar

Combine the cream and buttermilk in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot. The top of the fridge is fine, or near the stove. Allow to sit undisturbed for 12-14 hours or until thickened but still pourable. This may take as long as 36 hours.  When it’s thick, add the sugar and whisk lightly until soft mounds form when dropped from a spoon.

Note: the high fat content makes this possible – don’t stress about not refrigerating it. Like butter, it doesn’t spoil or mold or grow bacterial colonies when kept at room temperature for a few days. After you’ve got it to the right consistency, though, put it in the fridge, where it will keep for up to three weeks. Crème fraiche is tangy yet sweet.

Option B: Quick crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cups

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Beat just until soft peaks form when the beater is raised or until it mounds when dropped from a spoon. You can store this in the fridge for 24 hours, but rebeat lightly before using to restore airiness. This is the version I usually use.

Option C: If you’re seriously worried about the fat content (are you sure you want to eat dessert?), make this vastly less good but still edible faux crème fraiche:

1 8-ounce package of frozen whipped topping, thawed in the fridge until soft

1 8-ounce carton of vanilla yogurt (I recommend Yoplait – it’s far tangier than many brands) OR a 6-ounce carton of plain Greek yogurt plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk together until creamy. Will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

 Aaaaaand Part III: Assembly

First, decide if you want a crisper pavlova or a soft and airy one. If you’d like it crisp – which is more traditional – assemble about an hour before you’ll be serving the dessert. I like mine soft, because the topping soaks into the dacquoise discs and the whole thing gets light and ethereal as angels’ wings, so I assemble up to four hours before serving. You’ll need about a pint to a pint and a half of fresh raspberries, and a pretty plate wide enough to hold your dacquoise discs.

Drop a small spoonful of your creamy topping, whichever you made, onto the center of the plate. Then place one of your discs on top of it. (This will keep the pavlova from sliding off onto the countertop and smashing into globby bits, thus preventing your tears and rending of garments. Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Assuming you made two larger discs, top the bottom one with about half, or slightly more than half, of the topping. Then add half the berries (save the prettiest ones for the top). Top this with the second disc, and then add the rest of the creamy topping. You can swirl it with the spatula if you want it all pretty, or pipe it if you’re a Martha-Stewart-in-training. Then add the remaining berries in a decorative fashion. You can add a few chocolate shavings or a restrained sprinkling of ground nuts, if you like.  Of course, if you made three discs, apportion the creamy topping and the berries so you can have three layers (duh).

Store in the fridge, preferably in a cake or pie holder to keep it safe, and away from the Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon with Wasabi you had for dinner last night, until you’re ready to serve. Cut into wedges and serve. Eat with joy. Toast the New Zealanders (Kiwis). Then, just to cover all the bases, toast the Aussies.

A few years ago, The CEO got to revisit that part of the world through a different scholarly fellowship program – and I was able to join him for three weeks of the tour.   Australia was interesting, and friendly and clean and enjoyable.  I’d go back anytime.  But I fell in love with New Zealand, and from time to time I daydream of retiring to Wellington someday.  (The CEO says, “Not Wellington, it’s really windy there.  Aucklanders make fun of Wellington weather.”  I remind him that although Auckland was very nice, it felt more like Florida to me than home, and constant 70F temps would bore me.   “We could try  Te Awamutu instead; it’s not far from Wellington, and the weather’s better.  You’d like Te Awamutu.”)   Whether we actually go or not, we’ll probably be eating pavlova in the summer.

Image is Timeless Pavlova from (heart)babybee at Flickr.

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