Monday, 11 April 2011

Baking for Britain

Nothing says Australian summer to me quite like a pavlova; crisp meringue with a soft marshmallowy centre, smothered with whipped cream, masses of luscious berries, and juicy passionfruit.

It’s bright and bold, generous, unrefined, and utterly satisfying. Always a crowd pleaser. Always a show stopper.

Last weekend I went away with some English friends to a small village on the banks of the river Severn in Gloucestershire. With the weather forecast promising clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20s there was talk of barbecues, sunbathing and walks along the beach.  Feeling firmly in my comfort zone, I volunteered to make desert for the Saturday night barbie. Bring on the Aussie pav.

But as we meandered along picturesque country lanes through fields of daffodils and spotted pigs,

and along the banks of the Severn where people unhurriedly fished in the soft afternoon sunlight

I started to waver on my decision for desert. I suddenly saw the pavlova in a new light. It seemed too brash, too showy, too…Aussie? What this tranquil setting called for was a desert with subtlety and restraint. Something quintessentially British.

I remembered Oliver Peyton’s article in the Times' weekend magazine a few weeks ago where he wrote that “baking is the heart and soul of British cooking… Sifting, kneading, folding or whisking- these things are comforting and communal, old fashioned and timeless”.

A quick google search saved me from making a cultural faux pav. Instead I made a Bakewell Tart; 

A delicious sweet tart in which the berries hide their brightness under a bushel of buttery frangipane and flaked almonds. Served with a modest dollop of creme fraiche. 

It was a triumph for the barbecue and for Britain. 

Bakewell Tart
(10-12 modest serves)

For the shortcrust pastry
115g cold unsalted butter cut into dice
25g castor sugar
200g plain flour
zest of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon iced water

Mix flour, sugar and zest together. Incorporate the butter into the flour mix using your finger tips until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and the water and bring the dough together with a metal knife as quickly as possible. (Important not to overwork pastry as it will become tough). Shape the pastry into a disc, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to 2mm thickness and line a 28cm tart tin with a depth of 2cm.  Prick the base with a fork and put case in freezer for an hour. Heat the oven to 180C. 

Line the pastry case with baking parchment and fill with weights (scrunched up tin foil will work if you are in a country cottage with no pastry weights). Cook for about 15 minutes until the pastry is a pale golden colour. Take out the parchment paper and brush the inside of the pastry case with a little egg white. Cool. Reduce oven to 170C.

For the filling
200g unsalted butter (melted)
200g castor sugar
200g ground almonds
3 eggs (lightly beaten)
50g self raising flour
100g good quality raspberry jam
100g fresh raspberries lightly crushed
50g flaked almonds

Mix flour and ground almonds in a large bowl. Add the melted butter and eggs and gently fold into the dry mix until just incorporated.

Spread base of the cooked pastry case with jam. Scatter crushed berries over the jam and pour in the almond mixture. Smooth the surface and scatter the flaked almonds on top. 

Bake for 30 minutes then cover with tin foil to stop it browning further. Bake another 10 minutes until filling is just set. Serve with creme fraiche. 

(6-8 immodest serves)

6 free-range egg whites at room temperature
375g caster sugar
3 tsp cornflour
1.5 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping
300ml cream whipped until soft peaks form
5 passion fruit
3 punnets mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper and draw a rough 25cm circle onto it. In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed, then whisk in the sugar, one third at a time, until stiff and shiny. Sprinkle the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla extract over the egg white, and fold in lightly with a metal spoon. Spoon the meringue onto the baking parchment within the marked circle and, using a spatula, flatten the top and smooth the sides. Place into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 150C. Cook for an hour and 1/4, then turn off the oven and leave to cool completely. (I usally cook it the day before and leave it in the oven overnight).

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, invert it onto a plate and peel off the baking parchment. Spoon the cream onto the meringue base, then pile on the berries and passionfruit.