There are many arguments over the orgins of recipes. Jeanne argues, that one of the most hotly contested recipe of all time is surely the Pavlova. Learn more about the history of this amazing dessert, and more importantly how to make it at home.
Ah, who doesn’t love a good, juicy argument? I’m sure it is imprinted on our genes to be attracted to disputes and disagreements: we all have an opinion, we all love to share ours, and we all like to defend it to the death. So there can be few things more riveting for a foodie than a juicy argument over the origins of a particular recipe.
Take the pasta dish of bucatini all’amatriciana. It’s an Italian classic, but there seems to be no agreement on its origins. Residents of the central Italian town of Amatrice say they’re the ones who created it and point at the name as proof. But Roman chefs are equally convinced that their forebears in Rome invented it and merely nodded to the town of Amatrice in the name. The Caesar salad, so ubiquitous on menus around the world is also in dispute. The story usually goes that Cesare Cardini Caesar, who was born near Lago Maggiore in Italy but emigrated to San Diego, invented it on a busy weekend at his Tijuana restaurant when he ran short of supplies. Not wanting to disappoint the customers, he concocted this salad with what he had on hand and prepared it at the table to add flair to a somewhat makeshift dish.
It caught on and the rest is history. But Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardini's, claimed that he
created the first Caesar salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it "Aviator's Salad”; Caesar's brother Alex also claimed to have developed the salad; and a chap called Livio Santini claimed he
made the salad from a recipe of his mother, in the kitchen of Caesar's restaurant when he was 18 years old, in 1925, and that Caesar took the recipe from him.
Even more bizarrely, there are some who claim that the Italians did not invent the recipe for lasagne but that the British did. Evidently in the first published cook book in Britain, published during the reign of Richard II in the 14th Century, there is a dish called loseyns (pronounced “lasan”) consisting of layers of cheese, meat and pasta. It could be that the Romans brought the recipe during their conquests, or it could be that 14th century England was a more adventurous place that we thought!
But the most hotly contested recipe of all time, still being debated nearly 100 years after its invention, is surely the Pavlova. Undisputed is the fact that it is named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured the antipodes in 1926 and 1929, and consists of a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. However, that’s where the agreement ends. In the Australian version, Chef Bert Sachse at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, Australia was asked to create a new dessert for afternoon tea. His meringue had a crisp exterior and a light, fluffy interior, and the hotel owners pronounced the dessert “as light as Pavlova herself”. Thus the Pavlova was born. But there is also an entry in the 1926 cookbook Home Cookery for New Zealand
described as "Meringue with Fruit Filling" (the name ‘Pavlova’ is not used but the recipe is similar). A year later, another New Zealand cookbook included a recipe called “Pavlova” but it was a gelatine based dish. And in 1929, a magazine published a recipe for the meringue and fruit confection that we know today. And so the delicious dispute rumbles on.
I don’t really mind where the recipe came from – I just know it is one of the easiest and most versatile desserts I know. I have made it with a variety of fruit, but for this time of year, pomegranates are my favourite – particularly as they are associated with romance and Valentine’s day. I made my own pomegranate syrup but if you are pushed for time you could buy ready made pomegranate molasses. Do make your own meringues though – they are always worth the extra effort!
2 large egg whites
112g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cornflour/cornstarch
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
175ml double cream
2 large pomegranates
50g granulated sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and cover a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Whisk the egg whites until they just form stiff and shiny peaks. Add the sugar gradually and mix whisk really well between additions. Continue whisking for another 3-4 minutes after all the sugar is added, until the meringue forms stiff and glossy peaks. Whisk in the cornflour and vinegar.
With a pencil, draw four circles of about 10cm in diameter. Spoon the egg mixture onto the baking parchment and use a palette knife to spread a thick layer of the egg mix in the circle. You can also make a depression in the centre and build up a ridge around the circumference of each circle if you want nests. You can use a piping bag but I prefer free-form meringues!
Put the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven and immediately turn down the temperature down to 120C. Bake for 1½ hours, then turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven until completely cold. (Don’t worry if the meringue looks cracked – that adds to its visual and textural appeal!)
In the meantime, remove all the pomegranate arils from the skins and discard all the white pith (this is most easily done while the fruit is submerged in water). Reserve half the arils and place the other half in a food processor and blitz to a liquid. Press this pulp through a sieve using the back of a spoon and catch the clear juice that runs through – it should yield about 200ml.
In a small saucepan, add 50g of sugar to the pomegranate juice and heat to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering until the juice starts to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and cool.
Peel the baking parchment off the meringues and place on a serving dish. Whip the cream together with caster sugar until soft peaks start to form. Spoon a quarter of the cream onto the centre of each meringue, top with a spoonful of syrup and a quarter of the pomegranate arils. Drizzle any remaining syrup over the top and serve immediately.
I do love a good meringue and your pavlova looks purely decadent! Wonderful for a Valentine treat.
10 February 2014