Friday, 25 May 2012

Chocolate Meringues

Remember how, last time, I mentioned that we threw a big party? Well, lest you think we're cooler or more exciting than we really are, let me set one thing straight. This wasn't the sort of wild, crazy house party you see on telly. No random stolen street signs or illicit substances; no complaints from the neighbours and definitely no visits from the police. Instead, despite the fact that this beautiful sunshine hadn't quite arrived yet, we cracked out the barbecue and served up hot dogs, corn on the cob, fried onion, tomato and mozzarella salad, green salad, and mini jacket potatoes with sour cream and chives. I know! Pretty rock and roll. 

And yes, this savoury stuff was all very nice, but let's be honest. It was just camouflage for pudding. The main event was of course the ombre cake but it didn't end there, oh no. There were quadruple quantities of the chocolate world peace biscuits (still not quite enough, to be honest). There were bowls and bowls of chocolate buttons and mini Twirls. And, just in case we hadn't got the message, there was one more pudding. And yes, obviously, it was chocolate.

This recipe is originally by Nigella and I've made it once or twice over the years as one big pavlova, to general acclaim. This time, however, somehow the stars aligned and it went to another level - so good that my husband, Mr Greedy Gusto himself, officially added it to his Top Three Puddings of All Time. And trust me, that is saying something. What made it so good? Let me get out a numbered list. 1) Making them individual sized, rather than one big pavlova. 2) The Kitchen Aid.

I know, I know, I always go on about how amazing the Kitchen Aid is. Particularly with the ice cream bowl attachment (in case you hadn't noticed). But seriously, it's incredible. Before, even with my beloved little electric whisk, making meringues involved pretty serious arm ache. But not any more! Chuck in the egg whites, turn it on, then wander off. Flick through a magazine. Put the kettle on. Measure out the sugar. Lollop over to the fridge, pluck out a desultory grape or two, work out that you've forgotten to buy cream and add it to the list. Look over to the Kitchen Aid - ta-dah! All done. Honestly, some morning I'm going to come down to breakfast and it will have whipped up a whole cake without needing me at all.

As for the benefits of changing the size, it all comes down to texture. Now you love squidgy meringue centre, I love squidgy meringue centre, we all do. But this particular recipe, when cooked as one big pavlova, has always come out pretty soft in the middle. Not so much squidgy as verging on sloppy - delicious, but definitely moist. But in one-person portions? The ratios all even out. You end up with the perfect proportion of dry, crisp outside and soft, chocolate-chunk-studded inside. Topped off with double cream and strawberries or raspberries, I think it's a serious contender for perfect summer pudding. And, although I should warn you that these little meringues are ludicrously fragile, this too has its upside. I've just got four words for you, from exhaustive and exhausting research. Best Eton Mess Ever.

Chocolate Pavlovas
Adapted from Nigella here 
- 12 egg whites (I had previously frozen these from 2 batches of salted caramel ice cream, they defrosted fine)
- 600g caster sugar
- 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder (ideally sieved, but I didn't bother)
- 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
- 100g dark chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 180C and line all your baking trays with parchment.
Beat the egg whites until they form "satiny peaks" then add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, until it's stiff and glossy. Sprinkle over the cocoa, balsamic and chocolate and fold them in with a spatula or metal spoon. You could leave them all artfully swirled and Ottolenghi-ish, or just go all the way and ensure even spreadage of the chocolate - it's up to you.
Dollop big spoonfuls onto the baking trays and try to swirl into some kind of attractive circle. Piping would have been better but clearly it was beyond me in all the party prep madness.
Put them in the oven, immediately turn it down to 150C (although honestly, I can't remember if I did this) and leave to bake for around 45 minutes to an hour. When done they should look dry and slightly cracked on the outside, and feel ever so slightly squidgy inside if you press them gently.
Turn off the oven, open the door and leave them to cool. Once completely cool, they'll store in an airtight container for at least five days - possibly more but that was as long as our self control lasted. Top with whipped cream, raspberries or strawberries and curls of chocolate if you remember. Clearly, I didn't. 

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