Who doesn’t love a Pav!? To be fair, I’m not a great consumer of desserts. I can see the merit of a Pavlova, but it’s just not for me.
Having spent twenty years in the egg industry, promoting the consumption of those delectable oblately spheroidal taste bombs, I confess I’ve never made a Pav.
I do partake during the festive season. A slice is nice but let’s face it, how much cream and sugar does one require?
The Pav is a seasonal, national treasure rather than a year-round staple. It’s a dessert that knows its place as a summer celebration centrepiece and I salute our wonderful Pav for that … infinitely more appropriate and authentic than the colonial winter Christmas. Fresh berries, meringue and cream fit the mood perfectly, whereas holly, fake snow and the fat man dressed in a red winter coat, sweating like a Republican in a pride parade, have no place in our sunny climes. BBQ that venison! Don’t hitch it to a sleigh.
I have a clear recollection of my first encounter with Pav culture. It was over a coffee soon after my arrival in Aotearoa in 1992. The conversation, in a Patoka farmhouse, was centred around Pavlovan nuances and required characteristics: “Chewy…crunchy…soft…brittle”, “Turn the oven off and leave it in there for a week”, “Use eggs that are 4 weeks and 3 days old”, “Eggs with white shells are best”, “Don’t make a Pav on a humid day”, “Add cornflour to make it stable”.
At that stage, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “Sure, it’s part of the national cuisine, but isn’t it just meringue with cream and fruit on top?” I proffered.
That was not the right thing to say.
There would have been fewer disdainful looks had I suggested rugby was just a game. It was explained to me that not just anyone can make a good Pav. There exists a cabal of desserteratti who have the special touch. I heard whispers of Helen Halliday’s amazing Pavlova and eventually, some months later, I tried it and immediately understood what all the talk had been about. It was a wondrous moment of enlightenment. Truly a national dish of note.
Leap forward thirty years and we have our own family Pav wizard. My son Tom took up the challenge a few years ago and is now well on the way to being whispered about in dessert circles. He started with the book Pavlova by Genevieve Knights, which I thoroughly recommend, and is now a Pav-savvy chappy. Making a Pav is now his ‘thing’.
We should all have a ‘thing’. Whether it’s a good curry, lasagne, or perfectly cooked lamb, we should all have our ‘thing’ – or more than one ‘thing’ – we do well, and we’re known for in family circles. Or if you’re an Instagramer, your thing could be viewed by thousands of blasé scrollers.
If you’re more of a decorator than a creator, pyramids of commercial Pavs greet shoppers in supermarkets during the silly season. Decorating, after all, is really the trick. Cream and fruit enhance the perfectly made Pav and can hide all manner of disasters. Whether you want a demure and understated offering, or you’d rather something festively akin to a Carmen Miranda headdress, the possibilities are endless: hokey pokey, kiwifruit, toffee, baked peaches and mascarpone. Bailey’s custard, chocolate, cherries, caramelised banana, rhubarb, jellies, salted caramel, milo drizzle, toasted almonds and walnut brittle, saffron pears, passionfruit syrup, lavender and lemon sherbet dusting, pineapple chunks, boysenberry coulis, banoffee custard, raspberry ripple, strawberries.
Do not be shy. Let your creativity loose!
Don’t forget the mayo!
For me, the highlight of Pavlova making is the bowl of egg yolks you’re left with. These can be transformed, in less than five minutes, into luscious mayonnaise. Now we’re talking! I love making mayo. It’s one of my ‘things’.
Named for Mahon, the capital of Menorca, it’s a creamily textured emulsion of good oil and vinegar, or lemon juice. It is infinitely adaptable to whatever herb or spice you fancy.
I often use a mixture of white wine vinegar and lemon juice blended with sunflower and olive oils. Olive oil has a strong flavour so is best diluted with a mild oil. Add capers from the jar or fry them first to accompany fish. Add roasted garlic and rosemary to complement roast potatoes. Warm yourself up by adding chipotle or sriracha sauce. Remoulade and tartar sauces are both easy to make by adding capers, pickles, and herbs to your base mayo. Lemon and orange zest for flavour. Add interest with a little saffron. Make this the day before to give the flavours time to infuse and serve with prawns or cold chicken.