Friday, July 22, 2011

Easy, Light - The Ultimate Dessert for Hot Summer Days

Chocolate mousse filled Pavlova

When I first encountered Jayne Georgette’s dessert blog, Chocolates and Figs I knew I'll like it. It's the perfect blog for owners of a sweet tooth like me and my three kids. I had discovered that Jayne’s blog is a great source for new techniques and recipes, accompanied by interesting stories and informative facts. I was thrilled when Jayne offered to write a guest post for my blog and make a dessert that is gluten-free but elegant and easy to make.  Be sure to check out Chocolates and Figs for more beautiful Pavalova recipes. 

Elegant, lithe, graceful—a beautiful and famous ballerina dancing the Dying Swan, or perhaps the tragic bewitched White Swan Queen.  Now imagine a dessert that would embody the lightness of the dancer in the air. 
That was the challenge for pastry chefs when inspired by the greatness and celebrity of Anna Pavlova, (1881-1931) one of the most famous ballet dancers of all time.  She was the first ballet dancer to tour the world, including Australia and New Zealand in 1926, to adoring crowds.  In one of those countries, a chef created a dessert that would be worthy of her, drawing upon the lightness and elegance of the classic French confection, meringue. 
A pavlova is a cookie-like meringue dessert, usually made with vinegar and cornstarch and topped with light fruit and airy whipped cream.  Some also claim that the shape of the pavlova is supposed to resemble the tutu worn by Pavlova, with the whipped cream the netting of her skirt. Another story holds that the dessert was invented first, and someone commented, “It’s as light as Pavlova” bestowing her name on the creation.  In any case, the Pavlova quickly became a hit in both Australia and New Zealand, and later around the world. 
But which country has the honor of first invention?  Like many Americans, Australia and New Zealand tend to blend together in my mind and I vaguely think of them as being right next to each other.  But don’t tell that to an Australian or a New Zealander.  Although their countries are diplomatically and culturally close, there are 1400 miles setting them apart. Both countries are proud to claim ownership of Pavlova. Many investigations have been launched, but no definitive conclusions reached.  I think that’s for the best, let the glory of Pavlova be shared.    
I knew nothing of this history when I first encountered the Pavlova but I knew we were perfect together.  Meringue desserts were also a classic part of my Hungarian upbringing.  I loved nibbling meringue cookies as a child and I’ve never stopped.  In Hungary, they are often made with nuts, (i.e. hazelnuts or almonds) but no other filling or indentation for toppings.    
The Pavlova is a meringue cookie superstar, befitting its namesake.  It has the texture that reminds me of the meringue cookies, crispy on the outside soft, chewy and moist on the inside.  Who wouldn’t love to top that off with fresh fruits, whipped cream, chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, roasted/stewed fruits and more (although not all at the same time)? 
What’s more, Pavlovas are easy to prepare, they require a minimum of time in a heated kitchen, and are light to digest.  Simple and versatile, they are a splendid summer dessert.  Depending on the toppings you use, it can be a low-fat or fat-free dessert as well. 

I’ve been playing around with Pavlova variations, and have prepared four for presentation. Since it is too long to be placed in one post, we decided to divide the recipes so that two are reported here, and two on my blog, at http:/// I love the White and Black Swan Queen Pavlova, topped with the Black Swan’s seductive chocolate mousse to smother the pure white meringue of the White Swan. The bright Lemon and Gingered Peach Palovas are also wonderful.   My favorite is a simple and classic presentation of Mixed Berries on Chantilly Cream.   While piping the meringue onto a baking sheet is traditional, I prefer using a muffin or cupcake pan for easy, attractive and structured Pavlova creations.
So, without further ado, here are the recipes:


All the meringues or PAVLOVA’s are the same:, except I added in some recipes chopped, roasted almonds


4 egg whites, room temperature
1-tablespoon cornstarch
1/2-teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup caster (fine) sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Pinch of salt

Method of Preparation
1.     Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.     Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
3.     Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating constantly until it becomes thick and glossy.
4.     Add the cornstarch with the last 3 tablespoons of sugar.
5.     Fold in the vanilla and the vinegar and mix it for 10 seconds.
6.     Spoon the meringue either on jelly roll pan covered with buttered parchment paper, 1 inch apart; or as I did use a muffin pan and either butter the muffin pan or place a silicone muffin cup into each unit.  The meringue should be higher then the muffin cup and make indentations in the middle of each unit with the back of a spoon; this is where the filling will be placed.
7.      Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.
8.     Bake for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the muffins. It has to appear dry and crisp outside. Try not to open the oven door at least for the first 15 minutes of baking.
9.     Turn off the oven and open the oven door. Cool completely in the oven (the meringue (pavlova) may sink during cooling, but it is fine).
10.                       Serve with various fillings. See suggestions below

Empty meringue shells
Chocolate Mousse
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • Optional: 3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
Method of Preparation
1.     Whisk egg yolks with 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons water, and rum in a metal bowl to blend.
2.     Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch the water). Whisk until the candy hermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160°F; you may need about 6 minutes.
3.     Add the chocolate pieces and whisk until melted and smooth.
4.     Mix the cocoa powder with 3 tablespoons hot water (make sure there are no lumps and add it to the chocolate/egg mixture.
5.     Turn off heat; leave bowl over water.
6.     Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
7.     Gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff peaks form
8.     Fold 1/3 of egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten.
9.     Fold in the remaining whites.
10.               Remove from over water and let the mousse cool 20 minutes.
11.               Beat whipping cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
12.                Incorporate the whipped cream into the chocolate mousse or alternatively, use it as a decoration placed on top of the chocolate mousse.

This type of “cake” or “cookie” can be assembled in a variety of ways. Here, I scooped  three small scoops of chocolate mousse and placed it into the indentation (see the photo without fillings), then used raspberries for color, and the mousse is sprinkled with roasted, ground almond and the entire service plate is sprinkled with tempered, melted dark chocolate.

Note: You can add sweetened whip cream (Chantilly cream), on top of the mousse; you can use other nuts,  you can have just whipped cream with chocolate shavings as decoration and so on…

Gingered Peaches

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 3 firm but ripe large peaches, peeled, pitted, quartered
Method of preparation
1.     Combine 2 cups water, 1-cup sugar, fresh lemon juice, and sliced ginger in large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2.     Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.
3.     Add the peeled peach quarters to the syrup and remove from heat.
4.     Allow the peaches to cool to room temperature in the syrup, at least for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. The longer you let the peaches to absorb the gingered syrup, the better  they will taste.
5.     Transfer the peaches with the syrup to a container that can be closed; and chill it in the refrigerator until cold. Peaches can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
As you can see on the photographs, there is no real assembly required. Just place a few gingered quartered peaches into the indentation of the Pavlova and I placed a single raspberry in the middle for color.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest post at Food Wanderings

When I first begun to write my blog, I thought that writing is a lonely vocation, that still may be true but blogging turned out to be a great way to socialize and meet many new people. Among the many food bloggers I've encountered through the web the past months, Shullie Madnick from Food Wanderings turned out to be one of my preferred ones. I like her use of fresh ingredients, uncomplicated yet tasty recipes and above all lovely writing and photography. I was really delighted when Shullie asked me to write a guest post for a series of articles about Israel. So please check out Food Wandering blog, and come with to my weekly shopping at Ramle market.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Refreshing summer flavors

Disclosure: The writer was a guest of the Sofia restaurant at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem.

It was a regular Israeli hot and humid summer day. We were early. My best friend (famous food blogger Foodbridge) and I had arrived to the Inbal hotel almost an hour too soon. We looked at the swimming pool longingly and wished we had brought bathing suits. We also felt very sorry for the hotel staff, all dressed formally in suits while we wore our best T-shirt and capris for the day.  We were invited to a blogger event and formal introduction of the new menu of the Sofia restaurant. Because of our early arrival we had a chance to wonder around the hotel prior to the bloggers' event. It turned out to be a gem of a hotel: combining the beautiful view of the old city with all the modern comforts and pampering. 
Chef Moti Buchbut

Then it was time, we were called back to the restaurant and the tastings began. There weren't many of us bloggers at the lavishly arranged table. In addition to Foodbridge and me, there was  Ariella Fixler-Alon from the Hebrew food blog "Cooking to the rhythm of Salsa", Shira Zwebner from Hipstermom blog, two managers from the hotel and a PR agent. Now our T-shirts seemed very inappropriate.
On the spot made brioche bread

We began the meal with brioche bread that was freshly baked and tapenade spread.  The restaurants' chef, Moti Buchbut came and explained every dish as it reached our table. The Red Tuna Carpaccio was served, and we were extremely impressed and not for the last time. The fish was marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasoned only in sea salt. It was a perfect starter, fresh, delicate and very tasty.
Tuna carpaccio 

Next we were served onion soup based on red wine that had a rich taste followed by a very unusual green salad. The salad was extremely fresh, the lettuce crisp and juicy but the unique ingredient was the sauce: a combination of olive oil, and Passion fruit puree that contributed a tangy yet rich flavor to what is generally considered a mundane dish.  We had also sampled pasta with tomato sauce (Pasta A La Pomodoro) that was tasty but not thrilling.
Onion soup

Green salad

Spaghetti pomodoro
The "piece de resistance" was next. This is a dish that in my opinion is worth hiring a baby sitter, getting dressed and driving to this restaurant.  The Asian Sea Bass (Barramundi) served on a bed of mushroom risotto and topped with scales made from potatoes. It was ingenious combination of flavors, textures and the beauty of an impressionist painting. 

Barramundi fish on a bed of  mushroom risotto

 In addition we tasted two more fish courses: one of sea bream and the other of trout- both were exceptional in flavor and presentation.
Marinated trout fillet with potato and mushrooms

Sea brim on toasted brioche with yellow bell peppers sauce

We were so stuffed that we couldn't believe we will handle the dessert. But the deep fried chocolate filled ravioli was irresistible.  We licked our fingers literally. 
Not a space ship, chocolate filled raviolli

The whole experience was unforgettable. I personally loved the Chef's tendency towards fresh, lemony, tangy tastes and the combination of extremely fresh ingredients in a beautiful presentation. There is a tendency ( I had it too) to look at Kosher and especially Dairy Kosher restaurants as unsophisticated, a no match to regular chef restaurants. Chef Moti Buchbut and his staff at the Sofia restaurant prove that one can cook Kosher Haute Cuisine, you just need the enthusiasm and creativity.

Sofia restaurant – Kosher (not open on Saturday) at the Inbal Hotel , Liberty Bell Park, 3 Jabotinsky Street, Jerusalem,  Israel.
Views of the Old City from Inbal Hotel