April 11, 2011

Pavlova And A Little Kitchen Instinct

I'm feelin' pretty pleased. And happily contented. The above picture is my idea of heaven. And that bit of heaven has gone straight to my stomach. Fortunately, I've done lots of mowing lately (push mower of course), so I'm feeling slightly fit. And this of course is my excuse to indulge a little. I can afford it; so I tell myself.

But what I'm feeling really pleased about is how I threw my pavlova together. I used no recipe. I figure I've made enough to just go for it. I've been doing a fair bit of this lately. Not referring to recipes that is. I can't remember the last time I used a recipe for a butter cake or a sponge. I just do it. And they have never been better.

Years ago I was in a place where trying to perfect dishes and putting together cookbook recipes has sometimes overwhelmed me. I think I was missing 'instinct'. By golly, I've loads of instinct in other areas (my girls can vouch for that), so why not in cooking?

After a lifetime of practise, I feel truly comfortable and confident in my ability to cook. Finally. The cookbooks do still come in handy (the preserve books have been getting a workout lately), but I don't oggle at the pics and study recipes like I once did. I roughly recall from 1980ish, a couple of days never went by without me referring to one of the Australian Women's Weekly Cookbooks. Heck, hours spent drooling over them to be honest. Times have changed. My collection of the AWW cookbooks is not far short of one hundred and I can only imagine the dust collecting on them now. Not looking.

It's been a long road of practise and blunders and success that's made me today's cook. And today, I see what's in my fridge, freezer, the pantry, the garden and the fruit trees which determines my ingredients. Then I visualise a dish. Once I've decided on what to make, the preparation and the method seem to flow easily. And best of all. It's fun. I even look positively toward cleaning the dishes! But that's another story, another post.

How about you? How often do you refer to cookbooks? Do you rely on them to cook? How long would you be able to cook for yourself or for your family without using a cookbook or any cooking reference? You may surprise yourself. A little kitchen instinct can take you a long, long way.

Pavlova: Based On Years of Practise and A Little Instinct.

seven egg whites (cause that's what I found in my fridge)
approx 1 1/2 cups castor sugar
generous teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of cornflour
2 teaspoons of white vinegar
cream of tartar

Using an electric mixer; whisk the egg whites with two generous pinches of cream of tartar. Years ago I loved watching Geoff Jansz on 'What's Cooking". I'm talking sometime in the late 1990's. Geoff always used to go on about adding cream of tartar to egg whites to help stabilize them. I've always remembered his advice and I religiously do it.

After a couple of minutes, increase your speed to the highest setting; add half the castor sugar; carefully - don't just dump it in. Beat for about five or six minutes; then add the remaining sugar and vanilla extract. Continue beating for another five or six mins; use your spatula to make sure that any sugar granules on the side of the bowl are properly incorporated.

When your mixture looks stiff and glossy, add the two teaspoons of cornflour followed by the vinegar. Mix for another minute. Done.

Take a baking sheet that has been lined with baking paper. I very lightly grease with olive oil spray and dust with extra cornflour. Give the baking sheet a good whack to release excess flour not sticking to the paper. Brush this off. If you like you can draw a round circle on the sheet; but I don't. Besides I don't want my food in contact with lead pencil. Or you can draw underneath the paper and stick this side directly onto the baking sheet. It will be easily visible on the other side.

Plonk your pavlova mixture into the centre of the baking sheet and shape as desired. I do feel it's important to not keep it smooth. Create ridges around the edges and it will hold better than if you level the whole thing out smoothly. My experience is that you'll get some cracks on the pav and they're always worse and harder to handle if the pav is smooth.

Place into a cold oven. Not preheated. At least that's what I do. Crank up the oven at a low temp. I turn it on to 110degrees celicus with the fan force. One and a half hours later; turn off the oven. Don't open the door. It's best to let cool in the oven overnight - or for several hours preferably.

If not using immediately, remove the paper or if you like or simply cut the paper around the pav and leave it on. Put into an airtight container and store in a dark cupboard.


  1. Perfection! I can see that you have all the instincts of a fantastic baker and cook. I am tempted to bake without a recipe (Esp western cakes) but I still dont trust myself. But local cakes alwys gets their ingredients chucked in without much thought. LOVE teh AWW. have copies of them on teh shelf :)

    I can picture you mowing the lawn. I did that a couple of times years ago when we actually had a lawn..lol...(different house). but hubs was usually the mower and he couldnt understand why I liked doing it! (But I hate going to the gym though).


  2. That looks amazing. The fabulous Pav is something that I have never attempted.It always seemed a little too daunting. It was always something that you got Mum to make.
    The topping looks divine too.

  3. Mariana I never ever want to hear you say you don't have an eye for taking photos. Dear lady that top photo is DIVINE!!! Perfection. Nothing fluffy, just pure home cooking at it's true best. Contrasting colours, pure ingredients, instinctive recipe, and sunlight. Perfect.

    Geez, makes me want to go cook it right now, and I've only ever made one pavlova before, ( that was last year.)

    Cooking with instinct, yep I guess I do. I sometimes get ideas from recipe books and then change them to suit my taste buds and what's available. A long road of successes and failures within the kitchen, but I'm always prepared to eat the failures which is why I don't have a problem with playing with ingredients. I think if people played in the kitchen more they wouldn't be so reliant on impracticle recipes or daunted by being in the kitchen at all.
    I could go on as this a subject close to my heart, but for the sake of not boring you to tears I won't.
    Great post, every part.

  4. Gee Zurin - thanks dear. It all seemed to fall into place and I feel a lot more relaxed these days as far as cooking goes. I figure there are enough people around me eat any mishaps and if not, well then there's the chickens. Luckily, the chickens haven't received any full blown dishes yet. hehe.
    I'm certain you have loads of instinct Zurin - give yourself more credit dear lady.
    If you can picture me mowing the lawn, then picture this. Me mowing backwards and falling over one the chickens, with the mower racing by itself down the hill. You think I'm joking don't you. Cheers dear from your blue-bottomed blogger friend.

    Go on Bruise Mouse - make a Pav. You just made some lilly pilly jelly and that's a whole lot harder. Actually, some cream, fresh fruit and a drizzle of your jelly may be just the go. Never thought of that one. Lemon Butter is my fav topping and I don't think anything will beat it. Thanks again for being brave and having a go with the jelly. Mariana

    Ooooh cityhippyfarmgirl - you just made my evening a whole lot more pleasant. Hearing a fab comment like that from a pretty darn good photographer such as yourself is high praise indeed. Thank you.
    And thank you for your honesty. I particularly agree with you in that more people need to "play" in the kitchen. Good choice of word. It can be all too daunting for some, and it just needn't be. Bore me to tears. Never. I could be watching My Kitchen Rules rather than reading this. Now that's BORING! So pleased you dropped by.

  5. Ha! I'm the scardy cat that follows the recipe to the letter.
    Actually that's not entirely true. Anything savoury I can play around with but baking and preserving I am a measurer and a follower.
    That pav is a master piece and I agree with Brydie, your pics are great.
    Maybe I'll take your lead and be a bit braver soon.

  6. I so admire your improvisational baking skills! I could have a nice dinner made using whatever happens to be around, but baking... Now that's different - I've got to have a least a basic formula to get the proportions right.
    I also have to confess to hoarding cookbooks - especially those with beautiful photography. They give me such inspiration - and that's when the magic happpens.

  7. Hi Kate. I totally understand about being more adventurous with savoury foods - I think that applies to everyone. And I suppose if you want to replicate something that's caught your eye in a book or whatever, then you have to follow the recipe. But I do feel we've been "scared" into baking, with all the measurements needing to be exact. These days, I tend to look in my bowl, rather than in the book. Is the flour too stiff, is the batter too runny, taste for balance, etc. But it's come after years of experience and a fair idea of what needs to be done. Oh, and seeing my overflowing shelf with cookbooks can be too overwhelming to search for a recipe. So I can have that to thank for my cookbook rejection of late as well.

  8. Dear Chelsea - you're young. From what I've seen you do a brilliant job of putting together your garden produce and as you say "whatever happens to be around". But the baking, it takes a while to get the confidence for throw-togethers. I understand. No need to explain about the seduction of beautiful cookbook photography. I understand that too. These days, I'm more interested in greating my own food photography and checking out other people's efforts in blogland, such as yourself of course. It's become more meaningful to me. Mariana xxx

  9. Cake world is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I think I can bake bread without a book finally. I love the cut through shot of that pavlova, it tells me so much about the texture and density that you should have (speaking as someone who has never made one). I love photos best when they show me something that I wouldn't have known otherwise, pretty is good, pretty + edicashun is brilliant!

  10. the above in the context of food or 'how-to' type blogging, not all photography of course !

  11. I think you can bake bread like willy wonka can make chocolate dear lady. I can't get over your gorgeous looking loaves and I don't want to imagine the taste. Heaven.
    Interesting isn't it - cakes are so easy for me and a pavlova- well such a cinch. And yet bread is so intimidating. I guess we all have our field of interest and expertise. Pleased you appreciate the cut product. I just wish you could taste it. It really is my idea of heaven - with the lemon butter of course. Mariana xxx

  12. I call cooking w/o recipes, 'Granny style', and in my mind it is an indication of when a cook has developed a feel for a dish, and actually becomes part of the dish itself. I love cookbooks, but use them for inspiration, not instruction (although I may well do it just as written at least once, and thereafter begin 'feeling' my way through it.)

    Beautiful stuff, Mariana.

  13. Well if that's the case Doc, them I'm delighted to belong to the "Granny style" club. Thank you, I was rather chuffed with how the whole thing turned out. Mariana.

  14. Love love love this recipe. First time I've ever made pavlova and it turned out awesome. I made the choc mud cake for my sister's wedding last week (I posted a comment last week) and decided to try another one of your recipes. So impressed, so easy to make and it tasted delicious, gooey inside and crunchy outside, it looked exactly the same as yours. Your recipes are brilliant, fool proof! I'm going to attempt something else next week. Do you have a lovely sticky date pudding recipe too?

    1. Yes I know fuddyduddy; hope you saw my reply regarding the choc mud cake.
      I love pavlova; just one tip; don't attempt to make it in rainy or humid weather. Your lovely crisp, crunchy meringue will soften very quickly. Glad to hear the recipe worked well for you. Hmm; as a matter of a fact I do have a lovely sticky date pudding which I haven't made for years now. Perhaps I should revisit and post about it. Check from time to time and you may be surprised in the near future.