Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Met Him in a Cherry Tree...Part 2 (& Strawberry Pavlova Recipe)

Continued from Part I

...I gasped. He was cuuuute!  

 I wanted nothing more than to fold him up and stick him in my pocket. Unfortunately, some fruit needed picking, so it was back to work for the moment. 

Ensuing days found me constantly in his path - quite literally. I did everything in my power to end up picking cherries in the same row, so that one day I could 'casually' wander over (carrying my 6-plus-foot ladder under my arm, mind you) and holler up to him - 

'So do you want to hang out some time?' 

(Embarrassingly unclever, I do realize, but in my silly-girl-nervousness state, that's all I could muster up, despite days of planning this very moment.)

He says: Uhhh, what does it mean, 'hang out?' 

Fuck. Phrasal verbs. Really? He doesn't know 'hang out'? What did they teach in English class in the Czech Republic? Well, certainly not phrasal verbs, I thought.

Once we got that all sorted out, and he vigorously agreed to 'hang out' with me that evening (his head-bobbing nearly threw him off his ladder), I 'casually' walked away. After a few steps: 'Josie!'

My heart briefly considered skipping a beat, but no use, as it was not my beloved - rather the voice of the orchard boss. 'Josie - this way!' he yelled.

I had 'casually' walked the wrong way down the cherry row. This did not exactly go unnoticed by the above-mentioned beloved, especially while turning around, what with that six-plus-foot ladder pinched under my arm.

Returning to my camp site, I furiously prepped for that 'nonchalant american cool' I so eagerly wanted to convey. He still jokes about the orange clown shoes (his words),which were actually authentic Berber loafers picked up in Morocco (my words), in which I arrived.

The impromptu date involved a dictionary, pen and paper, and wildly gregarious hand-gestures. We were in a small town with little else to do but to draw maps of our hometowns and teach one another the dearest and the nastiest of all phrases in our language. 

Within the year, we left New Zealand, and I moved to his county ('My Republic' he called it), and I have been teaching boat-loads of phrasal verbs ever since.

New Zealand = Aotearoa = land of the long white cloud = pavlova = damn fine dessert.


What a funny name for a dessert. My Czech friends were a bit suspicious...hmmm, sounds Russian, they said. Well, I had to dig into the lore a bit, since when I was in New Zealand it was drummed into my head that the Pavlova is as New Zealand as can be. Then I start seeing it pop up on all sorts of Australian blogs as a -what?- classic Aussie invented dessert?! The internet tells me that it was named after a Russian ballerina, but by a Aussie or a Kiwi chef in the early 1900s is the big debate

I really didn't want this dessert to be too sweet, so my recipe here uses limited sugar for the strawberries and cream. Basically, it's just enough to do the job extracting the strawberry juice and flavouring the whipping  cream. But the sweetness should really be understated to let those fluffy meringue layers shine

The meringue itself has the added kick of a bit of allspice. It really marries well with the basil syrup. For a more traditional pairing, the basil could easily be replaced with mint, and the allspice with a some lemon zest. But I like the offbeat allspice/basil zing. It provides a little earthiness to an otherwise sugar-spun and  fairy-light mouthfeel.

It was my first meringue attempt, and I spent the morning pouring over two of my fave cookbooks (in terms of explanations and techniques) - Cook with Jamie and French Lessons. 

Both these books are excellent sources on dessert techniques, among other things. I'm not sure the confidence would have been flowing as much as it was without them. I must say, making meringues was really fun in a science-experimenty kind of way! 

Note that this cake does not keep well for the next day. Share generously and that won't be a problem anyways! It's great made the morning of some get together, keep the meringues on the counter and the berries, syrup, and cream in the fridge. Assemble just before people arrive.

Continue to Recipe...

Recipe: Strawberry Pavlova with Basil Syrup
Serves 6 - 8
Eat with a late harvest or ice Riesling (from New Zealand/Australia, depending on where you believe Pavlova originates. Nelson, NZ is famous for it's late harvest Rieslings. If you see one at your wine shop, I'd grab one or two!)
Basil Syrup (makes extra):
1/3 packed basil leaves
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
Macerated Strawberries:
2 cups strawberries
1/2 Tb vanilla sugar

Meringue Cake:
6 egg whites
300g (1 1/3 cups) caster sugar
1 tsp allspice

Vanilla Cream:
210ml (1 cup) heavy whipping cream
1/2 Tb vanilla sugar

1) Make the Basil Syrup - in a small saucepan, whisk sugar and water together, stir in a basil leaves. Bring to a low simmer and keep simmering for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool/steep. Strain into a jar and stick in fridge. Will keep for a week.

2) Macerate Berries - hull and slice the strawberries. Coat with a slight sprinkling of the vanilla sugar and stick in the fridge for an hour or so to chill out.

3) Make Meringue Cakes - In a large squeaky-clean bowl whisk the egg whites by hand. Since you want to gradually increase the speed of the whisking, its best to start by hand and then graduate to an electric mixer. After a few minutes, when the whites are bubbly and frothy, switch to the electric mix and slowly start adding in the sugar. Add in the allspice. Beat for 7 - 10 minutes until it's about 4 times the volume you started with and is really white and shiny in colour, and of course, very stiff as well. You want to be able to pinch the cream and not feel any sugar. 

Cover two baking sheets with wax paper and divide the blob in half (this will be incredibly sticky!) and use your spatula to shape into two circles. Bake at 300°F/150°C for 1 hour. Let cool before removing from pan.
* I highly recommend reading the meringue tutorials in Cook with Jamie or French Lessons for wonderful tips and directions on all sorts of meringue creations. 

4) Whip the Cream - In a bowl start mixing the whipping cream and add in just a bit of vanilla sugar. Keep whipping for a few minutes until it thickens and has got those firm peaks.

5) Assemble - Take one meringue layer and spread with the cream. Top with berries and drizzle with two tablespoons of the basil syrup. Top with the second layer. It will probably crack a bit, but that just adds to the lush haphazardness of it all. Eat with the basil syrup on the side, should anyone prefer a bit more sweetness.

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo


  1. That looks incredible! Definitely going to give this a try when I can get some decent fresh strawberries. Loved the story, as well. :)

  2. Hi V.H. - and the beauty of pavlova is that any fresh fruit can be New Zealand Ive seen it with kiwis or passion fruit. Im saving that version for winter :)

  3. Holy yum! I am loving this. I love merengues and the fresh fruit makes it even more delicious!

  4. I adorreee pavlova, and your photos look absolutely delicious! Truly perfect :)

  5. Just for the record, - the Pavlova recipe belongs to New Zealand. Research has been considerable and you may find the facts (if you are interested) in the book entitled "The Pavlova Story" (A slice of New Zealand's history) by Helen Leach, Printed by the Otago University Press 2008.

    Very interesting reading.

  6. Thanks for the book tip! Food histories make some darn fine reading.

  7. Nice story and pictures too, cannot wait to visit NZ one day


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