(H)anna(h) Pavlova

First, apologies for the delay in posts. As some of you may know, my partner and I have just moved apartments. Don’t worry, while we officially live in West Melbourne rather than North Melbourne now, in reality we are literally three minutes’ walk from Errol Street. Di Bella is now in a direct line between me and my work, meaning I’m in there so often that several of the staff greet me by name. This is rather nice, but occasionally embarrassing.

My mango passionfruit pavlova ( a cheeky slice the day after...)

My mango passionfruit pavlova ( a cheeky slice the day after…)

Anyway, back to far more important things, namely pavlova. Pavlova is a crowd pleasing dessert. It’s nostalgic. It’s colourful and eye catching (depending on what it’s topped with). The flavours are familiar and popular. It involves copious amounts of whipped cream. It is named after a beautiful and talented Russian ballerina (Anna Pavlova). It’s even gluten free and vegetarian. Plus it seem light, meaning everyone feels able to fit in at least a little slither after dinner. To top it all off, I get to use my beloved Mixmaster to make it. My grandma makes a cracker of a pavlova, as do many other grannies nation-wide.

A few of you may have read one of my past blogs which mentioned my ‘pav-gate’ pavlova baking fail. The resulting light brown soggy mess was frankly devastating, particularly since I had previously considered pavlova a basic that was pretty foolproof. It took me a little while to regain my pav confidence. I convinced myself it had been the early morning bake time, but doubt still crept into my mind…

Happily, I can now say that I’m 100% back to my former levels of pav snobbishness. I can once again blithely whip these babies up for dinner party desserts and bring-a-plate BBQs. This weekend mangoes were down to $2 each at the Queen Vic Markets, so I snaffled up a couple and made a very nice little passionfruit and mango pavlova, even mixing a some passionfruit pulp into the whipped cream and decorating with a few well placed mint leaves. All the important elements for a super pav were there – crispy shell, marshmallow-like goodness in the middle, white glossy appearance, height, robust enough to hold lots of freshly whipped cream and topped with sexy looking seasonal fruit.

Below is my pav recipe. I certainly don’t think it’s the only good one out there, I highly doubt it’s the best one, but it’s simple, it works and it always wins me requests for seconds. It’s based on a combination of Donna Hay’s recipe, my grandma’s recipe and my own tinkering. Enjoy (preferably several slices)!

4 large eggwhites
250g pure icing sugar (or castor sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 normal/dessert spoons cornflour
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Large flat oven tray
Baking parchment or greaseproof paper
Mixmaster or electric hand beater

– Beat the eggwhites until they start to look white rather than clear (soft peaks starting).
Add in vanilla essence. Don’t freak out if the mixture goes slightly brown, as you keep beating it will return to white.
– Beat in icing sugar until eggwhites look very white, thick and glossy and hold their shape. I’d recommend turning off the Mixmaster to tip in the sugar, otherwise the powdered sugar flies everywhere!
Beat in the vinegar and cornflour. Note that I often use white wine vinegar if I have no normal white vinegar, it doesn’t seem to matter.
– Place a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray. If you have baking parchment, this is probably fine as is, if you have normal greaseproof paper, best to oil it slightly with a flavourless oil (e.g. vegetable or canola).
– Tip the thick eggwhite mixture onto the paper and, using a spatula or knife, shape the mixture into a circle. You could draw a circle on the paper if you wanted, but personally, I’m happy with an approximate circle.
– Shape the mixture so that rather than having a flat top there is a very slight depression in the middle of it (meaning extra room for cream and fruit!).
– Place in the oven for between an hour and an hour and 30 minutes. This will depend a bit on how thick/high you formed your pav and a bit on the oven, humidity etc. Just check it regularly after an hour. You’re looking for a shiny appearance without it turning brown. If you tap the side of it, it should feel hard and crispy and sound kind of hollow.
– Once cooked, turn off the oven and leave in the oven to cool, preferably for several hours.
– Whip thick cream with a little sugar and (optional) vanilla essence. Top the pav with cream.
– Then top with fruit of your choice. For summer I like mango and passionfruit or a mix of berries. For a more classic pav, go with kiwifruit, strawberries and passionfruit.

Review: Elceed

Elceed, on Queensberry Street in North Melbourne, has been rather overlooked by me as a brunch spot. I’ve been once or twice, but always seem to opt for Auction Rooms or Di Bella for weekend brunch. This past weekend my partner suggested Elceed for our post yoga brunch and I was pleasantly surprised. Elceed earns its place in the brunch capital of Melbourne, here’s why:

This lesser known spot is small, warm and very hipster. Walking in the front door, there’s a counter to the right with sweets like gluten free mandarin and rhubarb cake and old fashioned rum balls on display. Heading further in is a dining space with suitably mismatched furniture. There’s also a funky garden area out the back replete with quirky pot plants, though no-one was sitting out there when we visited since it was a typical rainy Melbourne morning.

Several tables sport adorable terrariums with tiny plastic animal figures inside them. Terrariums are just about as cute and hipster as it gets right now and I love them. Google terrariums in Melbourne or check out petitegreen.com.au to see the kind of thing I mean…I think I might have to buy one for our new place.

That’s right! I haven’t mentioned this yet, but we’re moving. Happily the new apartment is even closer to Errol street, so my brunch tradition is happily assured. It’s very exciting in some ways, but a massive cardboard box-filled pain in other ways.

But I digress, back to Elceed. The staff are friendly and give you a realistic assessment of wait time for a table (2 mins for us, yay!). The place smells like eggs and bacon, something which would particularly delight bacon lovers like my partner. The menu is quite extensive, though perhaps there are not as many sweet options as I would like. There’s also a few specials on the blackboard. We both opted for specials – the spicy baked eggs with fetta and couscous and the poached eggs with baba ganoush, dukka and a side of bacon. Both were excellent. My baked eggs were spicy, but not too much so and the couscous was soft and full of tomato-y flavour. My eggs were baked quite hard, as I’d told the waitress that I hate runny eggs. They were topped with nice creamy fetta and just a small handful of fresh rocket, giving the whole thing a vibrant and healthy feel. The poached eggs were beautifully cooked and the bacon a lean cut, making us two happy campers.

elceed pic 01

elceed pic 02

The coffee is ‘decent’ according to my partner, though (I felt) a little slow to arrive. I’d snuck in a cheeky chai at Di Bella beforehand, since my yoga class had been cancelled, so didn’t order any drinks at Elceed. Finally, at the end of the meal I ordered a rum ball, since I am, after all, a massive sweet-tooth. It was nicely presented on a floral saucer with two tiny forks (as if I was sharing it!). However, it was quite dry and frankly, a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent experience. Happily too, even though they were quite busy, we were not hurried from our table, but allowed to linger and read The Age, which is not something you always get at other, more popular, North Melbourne cafes.

This visit has definitely inspired me to mix it up a little and try to include a few other cafes in my weekend brunch roster.

Elceed on Urbanspoon

Ten baked goods I just don’t understand…

I love baked goods. When I travel, it basically ends up being a tour of all the best bakeries and cake stores in that country. I read guides and blogs on pastries. I make lists of cake shops to visit. I also love making baked goods myself. I bake pretty wicked double chocolate chip cookies (even if I do say so myself) and a growing repertoire of cupcake flavours on a regular basis. I’m also the keeper of the family’s secret passionfruit sponge recipe. However, there are some baked goods I just don’t get. I don’t like them. Never have and probably never will. Yet, they are very popular. Why? I don’t know, but here’s my top (or rather bottom) ten. Feel free to object – perhaps something you love is on my dis-list…

Mince pies – it’s less than 12 weeks until Christmas. Myer has their Christmas trim shop set up already. But there’s one part of the festive season I won’t be looking forward to, and that’s mince pies. I think it’s the mixed peel and dried fruit in them that I don’t like, because I also don’t like Christmas cake or pudding. My sister always disliked them too, until she went to the UK. Over there they eat mince pies (in the freezing cold weather) piping hot with thick cream. I’m unconvinced but she swears that the hot UK version completely turned her on mince pies.

Coconut ice – logically I should like this slice. It’s pink and white. It’s super sweet. I love coconut. But there’s something about the extreme sweetness I just don’t like. Plus it’s all so same-y. There’s just one texture, just one flavour, no levels or layers of interest. In addition, I think I feel misled by this slice. Half is pink and half is white, suggesting there’s two flavours there, but it all tastes the same!

Jaffa cake – chocolate and orange is a combination I really dislike. I don’t like my beautiful chocolate despoiled by orange’s bitter oily intenseness. Also in this category is any kind of chocolate/mint cake combination. Really, who likes toothpaste flavour with their chocolate cake?

Mega muffins – I love muffins, but I often find that the giant ones are really disappointing. Unless made somewhere reliably good, I won’t buy them. What tends to happen is that the baker puts three blueberries at the top of a huge muffin. Based on the appearance of the top of the muffin, you (rightfully) assume the muffin is choc full of juicy moist blueberries. In fact, there’s only those few on the top and the rest of the muffin is just stodgy plain cake flavour. It’s like somewhere in the past there was an official allocated number of berries/chocolate chips etc per muffin and that allocation has not been adjusted upwards to take into account the new jumbo sized trend in muffins.

Jelly slice – I know this is an Aussie favourite, but I don’t get why people go for this one. It’s wibbly, but not in a good way. It’s a weird texture combination. Plus, being a jelly top it’s typically not vegetarian friendly. I know, I know, you can kick me out of the country now…

A baked good I do get: melting moments!

A baked good I do get: melting moments!

Lemon slice – while we’re on slices, lemon slice is another popular item I have no love or time for. There are so many delicious slices out there people! Caramel slice, hedgehog slice, brownie slices, even those oatmeal Anzac type slices. Why go for the plain as plain lemon slice option? Plus they’re often quite dry on the bottom with sickly sweet icing on the top; an uninviting prospect.

Pumpkin scones – does anyone actually eat these? Besides your great aunt? What is the point in putting pumpkin in a scone, besides making the scone the colour of radioactive American cheese?

Pumpkin pie – I have nothing against pumpkins, but pumpkin pie is another item I can’t get into. I spent a Halloween and a Thanksgiving in Louisiana a few years ago, so believe me, I gave this American treat a go. I tried homemade ones, I tried slices from bakeries and I also tried two flavours of pumpkin pie made by Wholefoods. Nothing. It’s a pie crust with weird goopy (or in some cases jelly-like) custard the colour of baby spew.

Carrot cake – carrot is a vegetable. Don’t put it in a perfectly good cake. And don’t try to make the crappy vegetable cake better by wasting delicious cream-cheese icing on it. Plus, carrot cake sounds sort of healthy, but with the amount of sugar put in it to make it taste good, and all that cream cheese icing, it’s a really deceptive choice. Go home carrots, go back to where you belong!

Sticky buns or coffee scrolls – I’m talking about those big doughy wheels covered in icing, sometimes featuring sultanas. I don’t really understand why anyone likes these. It’s just bread that tastes mildly of cinnamon, covered in extremely average icing of the plain or instant coffee flavour variety. Lame.

Beautiful ingredients

I think there is only one secret to delicious cooking. It’s not, as the French might have you believe, butter. It’s beautiful ingredients. That sounds obvious, but I think a lot of cooking shows and cookbooks are missing that important step in making a fantastic meal.

You do not need an ice-cream maker or a sous-vide water bath to create something spectacular. You need fresh, vibrant vegetables, decent olive oil and perhaps some quality cheese or protein. Don’t get me wrong, I love kitchen gadgets and I also love eating at fancy restaurants full of foam, gel and freeze-dried-who-knows-what. But it just occurred to me the other day how little attention we give to selecting and appreciating the basic ingredients.

So today is ‘ingredients appreciation day’ on my blog. Here’s a picture I took of rhubarb. Just rhubarb. Isn’t it beautiful? Those gorgeous pink stems on my bright green plastic chopping board. It’s sexy! It’s inspiring. (And no, I’m not high, just take a second and look…)

rhubarb pic

A place where you can really appreciate the beauty of ingredients is farmers markets. Regular readers will know that I LOVE markets. I’m also lucky enough to live fairly close to the Queen Victoria Markets. I adore going and looking at (and buying) the displays at markets. Everything is a little imperfect, plentiful and displayed in a happy-organic sort of way. You can pick things up, see them in natural light rather than under fluorescents and, of course, smell them! Markets also give you an appreciation of what’s in season. You know it’s mango season when they’re going for under $10 a box. You know mushrooms are at their best when the mushroom man has eleven types on display. And you know it’s summer when berries’ prices halve. I personally don’t haggle at food markets, but that is also a fun element to shopping at markets if you’re into that kind of thing.

At the Queen Vic markets, it is easy to get overwhelmed, since the markets themselves are huge and, especially on weekends, completely packed. You could spend ( and I have spent) a fair amount of time wading through cheap handbags and dodgy looking kids’ toys before you find the fresh produce and even then, quality varies between stalls. I’ve been hitting up the markets for fresh produce since 2007 and have spent way too many hours dawdling round the stalls, sniffing oranges and squeezing avocados. Below are a few of my recommendations for beautiful produce at the Queen Vic:

Curds and Whey
This is a great cheese and dairy shop in the deli section. I particularly like it for its extensive and well labelled range of vegetarian cheese, including an organic Italian parmesan. They also sell butter (salted or unsalted) from huge blocks on their counter, quark, yoghurt, vanilla beans, saffron and other little gourmet delights. Most importantly, they’re always happy to offer you a taste before you commit to that wedge of cheddar or block of gruyere.

The Queen Vic Deli
I love this place for one reason: hummus. Their homemade hummus is the best I’ve ever had. I think they mix in a fair bit of tahini, making it really creamy and yet still tangy and tasty. The selection of olives at this deli is also worth a stop, though I think some of the other offerings are a bit overpriced.

Garden Organics and VicMarket Organics
These are my two favourite fruit and veg stalls. Both stock almost entirely organic produce. They also indicate if the produce is locally grown, which is helpful if you’re considering food miles. The staff are friendly (if not a bit cool) and really care about their produce. Plus Garden Organics has precious tiny little perfect pink lady apples (when in season) which I’m kind of obsessed with…

Also worth a mention not so much for gorgeous ingredients but for great snacks and prepared food, are the Borek shop in the deli section (and their sister shop further down on Elizabeth Street which has THE BEST gozleme), the Traditional Pasta Shop for fresh pasta and really good bake at home garlic bread and market juice for yummy (but super sweet) smoothies and my favourite Evia brand of yoghurt.