Midsummer (Juhannus, in the local language) is a pretty big deal her in Finland. Despite the fact that the weather is normally as crappy as it’s get (and this year was no exception) it marks the beginning of the “hot” season, the days are the longest and the nights are pretty much only a virtual concept. People head to their summer cabins by the lake, enjoy the nature, the mosquitoes and, in many case, a copious amount of alcohol.
Strangely enough, though, that is not really the way my Finnish family is used to celebrate, maybe they are not really 100% Finns, and somehow I deeply thank them for this, as a weekend isolated in the middle of nowhere with not 21st century (or 20th for that matter) comforts, surrounded by insect keen to feast on my sweet blood is not really my idea of celebration.
Therefore I had to find my own way to party and obviously it had to involve some yummy ingredients and an oven. I decided to go with this Pavlova, not only because is one of the yummiest dessert I have ever tried, but also because in spite of being inspired from a “rustic meringue tray” (from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV programs), it had potential to be “tarted up” for a more special occasion.
To tackle this operation I decided to pipe my meringue instead of just spreading it casually on the oven tray, I made a slightly fluffier chocolate ganache that could be spooned instead of poured, I cut the pears in quarters so that they would look all the same, rather than in smaller pieces of different sizes and shapes. I started with lot of enthusiasm and with a clear vision in my mind but I soon realised my meringue masterpiece was not meant to happen. First the meringue started to crack all over in the oven. They say that meringues crack when they are cooled too quickly, so I am not sure exactly what happened, but the nice piped structure went spoiled even before coming out of the oven. Then the pears lost slightly the shape during the poaching and at therefore they did not look any smarter than the usual; on this I should have known better, pears are really good but hardly the best looking fruit ever. Finally the ganache was slightly split, nothing disastrous, but just enough to lose the typical glossy, shiny and smoothest texture; “Mari, always remember, when you mix something with chocolate it has to be at least at the same temperature or slightly hotter!”, how many times do I say that to myself…
Despite being disappointed I decided to not let this to ruin my endeavour so I went on and proceeded as planned. And I have to say, even if I do that myself, it was still amazingly delicious. Of course it is not perfect as I was figuring in my mind, but I hope you could still get inspired and give it a go and yes, probably next time I will not bother with all this piping fuss but still it was very worthwhile. So, lesson take home #1 to: cooking meringue it is not as straightforward as it seems, you need to know your oven very well . #2: no matter how disappointed with the look of a dessert you can be, it can still taste soooooo good.
Have a good week!
6 egg whites
320 gr icing sugar
200 gr of good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% of chocolate solids)
1lt of whipping cream
3-4 medium size pears
200 gr caster sugar
1 stick of vanilla
200 ml rhum
Chopped hazelnuts (to taste)
Make the meringue by whisking the egg whites until medium-stiff peak and start adding the icing sugar slowly spoon by spoon and allowing the sugar to dissolve before adding the next. You can use also caster sugar but i prefer the texture that you get with the icing one. When the meringue is stiff and glossy, spread it on an oven tray lined with baking paper. You can make the shape that you prefer, just remember that the thicker your meringue is, longer it will take to cook. Bake it at 100 °C for 3-4 hours depending on the thickness of the meringue and paying attention to not open the oven during this time. Leave the meringue to cool in the oven with the door ajar. The meringue “performs” better if left to dry overnight.
Poach the pear in a mixture of caster sugar rhum and enough water to cover them completely. The time will depend on the size of the fruit and how ripe they are. Poke them with a knife or a fork, it should go in with no resistance. Cut them in pieces and let them drain for a couple of hours.
Warm up 400 ml of cream up to almost boiling point and add the chocolate, keep stirring until the chocolate has dissolved and let cool at room temperature by mixing every now and then to keep smooth and glossy, it should have the consistence of a mousse that can be spooned. Use 100 ml of cream more if you want a more liquid consistence to get a chocolate sauce.
When all the components are cooled and as cold as possible to serving, whisk the rest of the cream to soft or stiff peak as preferred and decorate the Pavlova with all the components. If you manage to get any leftovers, they can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days.