WE’VE all had pavlova gone wrong in the form of a stale, sugary nest filled with hideous tinned fruit and borderline rancid cream.
Far worse than the horror of eating, I tell you, is having to digest it afterwards.
If you’ve had one of these meringue monsters at a dinner party, or worse, ordered it off a restaurant menu, it’s time to make yourself a proper princely “pav”, as the dessert is colloquially known.
The Global Table found one such show-stopping specimen on the farm Middelplaas, near the Cockscomb mountain this Christmas.
Here Karoo cook Riana Joubert makes the patriarch of all pavs, a deliciously decadent, gooey creation containing layers of meringue, cream and caramel, with a golden tier of oats and pecan nuts at its centre and a beautiful display of fresh fruits on top.
She confesses this is not a pav for purists as she has given it her own special twist thanks to countless requests from family members and input from foodie friends over the years.
Riana has been making her “Karoo pavlova” for many years and it evolved from a recipe originally promoted by Femnet, the erstwhile women’s charity association for Transnet workers.
“Everyone loves it and so I have to make it for Christmas, and then again for New Year, as well as on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries,” Riana says.
Pavlova, incidentally, was named after Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, in whose honour it is believed to have been created during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the mid-1920s.
The two countries have slugged it out ever since as to which should claim rightful ownership of the classic dessert, although research suggests New Zealand is the more likely source.
It nevertheless remains part of the national cuisine of both countries, and is frequently served during celebratory meals like Christmas lunch.
* Scroll down below to learn how to make Riana’s Karoo pavlova!
Riana’s ‘Karoo’ pavlova – The Recipe
Riana says it’s important to carefully measure all the ingredients for both the meringue and the pecan nut/ oats layer, as both could flop if you don’t. The beauty of this dessert is that you can make the meringue layers several weeks before the time, as long as you store them in an airtight container. Even the oats and nut layer can be made ahead of time.
Ingredients for the meringue layers
Enough for two large meringue layers: 6 large eggs, separated (you won’t be using the yolks); 180g castor sugar; 80g icing sugar; pinch of salt
Method for the meringue layers
Using an electric beater, beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form, then add the castor sugar spoon by spoon, beating well as you go along.
Now sift the icing sugar over the mixture, then fold it in using a metal spoon. Add the salt last.
Cover two round metal baking trays first with baking paper (ungreased) the same size as the pan and then with a meringue layer each. Riana’s pans are 28cm across and you should be able to find them at baking shops like the Baking Tin – the important thing is that they must have a completely flat base and not a deep edge. Bake in an oven which has been pre-heated to 100C for about two hours, or until the meringue does not feel soft in the middle any more (Riana favours a crisp meringue over a soft one).
Leave the oven door slightly open at the end of the baking time and allow the meringue layers to cool down completely in the oven. Set aside both meringue layers till needed.
Ingredients for the oats and pecan nut layer
75g butter at room temperature; 50g (65ml) soft brown sugar; 30ml golden syrup; 150g (310ml) Jungle oats; 50g (125ml) pecan nuts, chopped
Method for the oats and pecan nut layer
Preheat your oven to 100C.
Heat the butter, sugar and syrup over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the pecan nuts, stirring through well. You can also heat the mix in the microwave until the butter has melted, if you prefer – just stir it through before use.
Using a round baking tray (again with a flat base), first place a circle of baking paper (ungreased) in the base and then cover the paper with a layer of the oats and nut mixture, using your fingertips to smooth it out. Remember to leave an edging of about 2.5cm as the mixture does need a bit of room to expand; it might also be tricky to remove from the pan if you go right up to the edge. Do smooth this edge out neatly though so it doesn’t look untidy later, once the pavlova is assembled.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until a golden caramel colour; you can even up the temperature to 150C but do keep a close eye that it doesn’t burn.
Remove from the oven and let it cool off in the pan somewhat before moving it to a wire rack or flat surface.
Ingredients for the decoration
500ml cream, beaten until stiff (or else 2 packets of Orley Whip – a good option in the Karoo when fresh cream is in short supply); 1 standard-sized tin of caramel condensed milk; sliced kiwi fruit, strawberries and pecan nuts for decorating (slightly tart fruit like these, or even berries, are best to counter the sweetness of the dessert).
And finally… assembling the pavlova!
Place the first meringue layer on your serving plate – handle it carefully as it will be quite brittle.
Cover with a layer of whipped cream. Now cover one side of the oats and nut layer with caramel condensed milk, placing it caramel side down on top of the cream layer.
Cover the top surface of the oats and nut layer with caramel as well, then cover this with another layer of cream.
Top with the second meringue layer, then spread a bit of cream on top of that. At this stage you can put the almost-completed pavlova, sans fruit, in the fridge until you are almost ready to serve it. This also helps the pavlova to settle a bit and become a wonder of delicious gooeyness – it can be a bit fragile to cut if you serve it straight away.
Finally, decorate with the fruit and nuts and bring out the masterpiece!