Dreaming of a sweet Christmas? An ace in the kitchen, Claire Goodwin is creating an exclusive festive recipe for Standard Issue each week in the lead up to the big day.
I’d like to say that it is ‘nearly’ that time of year again, but it would appear that the majority of the people I am friends with on Facebook have had their Christmas trees up since April 12t. As is de rigueur on Facebook and Twitter, many people are either smug, outlandish or attention-seeking; ’I’ve had all my presents wrapped since August 13’; ‘I’ve got a snow machine in my yard’ and the classic ‘Sick and tired of people thinking it’s ok to blah blah blah’ (correct response = u ok hun?)
Yet social media also contains all those pictures of friends, witty comments from loved ones and the ability to maintain friendships with people I really love even if our paths rarely cross anymore. And – most importantly – links to videos of bulldogs on trampolines. So I’ll put up with the premature Christmas preparations.
In which case, let’s talk about food. No matter your lifestyle, there appears to be no judgement or guilt when it comes to eating at Christmas. Four courses and a cheeseboard? Yes please. No one blinks an eye when we give children chocolate before breakfast every day of December. And though my husband and I don’t have trees and wreaths and singing reindeer at this point of the month, we discuss what we are going to eat over Christmas. It’s exciting and fun and I love the fact that we have time to enjoy the preparation and the cooking, because we are both off work over Christmas and can indulge ourselves with hours of prep time.
So here is the first recipe in a little series to help you out at Christmas. I am not a big fan of traditional Christmas pudding (possibly a sacrilegious statement for a baker). As an alternative, here’s something that’s perfect after a rich dinner. The lemon cleanses the palate and scours through the heavy grease of the roasted foods and the gravy; the pomegranate adds an end tone of slight bitterness that balances the sugar of the Swiss meringue; and the cream is sheer Christmas indulgence. Full of flavour without being stodgy, it leaves room for that all-important cheeseboard and liqueurs. I’ve added an ombre effect for extra wow factor, but if you aren’t bothered by this, plain white and glossy meringue works a treat, too.
Etiquette might dictate dessert wine with this, but I recommend a lovely dry Prosecco. The fizz mixed with the sherbet flavour of the lemon syrup and dryness of the pomegranate really works.
NB: I use pasteurised egg whites as it’s recommended that this product is safest when making meringue/royal icing/SMBC etc. Liquid egg white is a little more economical as you will otherwise have to find a use of ten egg yolks. I used to give them to my dog, but his parps were so offensive I had to stop.
Ombre lemon and pomegranate pavlova
For the Swiss Meringue
Egg whites, 10 egg whites (or 20 tablespoons of Two Chicks Egg White)
Caster sugar, 500g
Food colouring: I like Sugarflair and Progel. Liquid colours from the supermarket can be a bit wishy-washy so try to find a paste. Some supermarkets are starting to sell gel colours now.
For the filling
Pomegranates, 4, de-seeded (cut them in half, tap them with a spoon then pull apart – the seeds should release more easily. If you’re really lazy/have a high enough tolerance to shop at a middle-class supermarket, you can buy pots of the seeds for an exorbitant price.)
Double cream, 1 litre, whipped
For the syrup
Lemons, 2, zest then juice them.
Caster sugar, 200g
Lemon oil extract, 15ml (I like Nielsen Massey; it’s a bit dearer but the flavour is awesome)
Make the meringue
1. Heat your oven to 100⁰C/ Gas Mark ½
2. Set up a bain marie (bowl over simmering water) on the stove. Add the egg whites and sugar and whisk until you cannot feel the grains of sugar between your thumb and forefinger when you rub some between them.
3. When the mixture feels smooth, remove from heat and add to stand mixer bowl. Whisk until the meringue is bright white and forms stiff peaks which do not sag. You can do this with a hand mixer or a manual whisk. Take off the bain marie and whisk until you get stiff glossy peaks. Insert your own Carry On Baking joke here, matron.
4. Cut some greaseproof paper to the size of two flat oven trays. Use a bit of the meringue to stick the greaseproof to the bottom of the tray. DO NOT use butter or grease – grease is the enemy of meringue.
5. Draw four circles on your sheets, approximately eight inches in diameter. I use edible pen. If you don’t have edible pen, draw your circles on the reverse side of the greaseproof before sticking it down with the meringue
6. Spoon a few ladles of the meringue into your piping bag and pipe into your first circle, making sure it is all covered. If you don’t want to pipe, you can spoon directly onto the greaseproof and arrange it into a circle with a spoon.
7. Take your food colouring (I used red) and put a little bit in your remaining meringue. Whisk to a pale colour. Repeat the action of filling in the next circle
8. Repeat step 7 twice more, but each time add more food colouring and whisking so that you achieve graduated shades of colour in each of the four discs
9. Put in oven for 1 to 1.5 hours. The meringues are in the oven to dry out. They should not change colour or discolour with the heat. If they start to discolour, you need to turn the oven down. If they start to colour brown, the sugar and protein is burning and this will turn bitter. Also it wont look so glam. When they are easily lifted from the greaseproof (they will crack in parts, but because they’re Swiss meringue will stay slightly fluffy in the middle) they are done. At this point, turn off the oven, leaving the meringues in there to cool
Make the Lemon Syrup
1. Place the sugar, lemon juice and lemon extract in a pan and mix.
2. Bring to the boil
3. Reduce down a little so it becomes thick
4. Leave to cool – it will thicken more and be a clear sweet sherbet-y syrup.
5. Try not to put your head in it
Build the Pavlova
1. I arranged my meringue discs as dark at the bottom and light at the top, but you can do it any way you want
2. Place the first meringue disc on the plate and pipe/spread cream on the disc
3. Drizzle the syrup over
4. Sprinkle pomegranate generously on this
5. Sprinkle lemon zest over
6. Drizzle a little more syrup
7. Repeat until you have nothing left
Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK