Monday, 24 October 2011

Sunday Baking: Chocolate Pavlova and afternoon tea

On Sunday I hosted an afternoon tea at my house for the girls from my work. It was a pretty grey Edinburgh afternoon but my flat was toasty and smelling of freshly baked scones. There was plenty of tea and bubbly consumed and there was a lot of cake. I'd been totally in my element the past few days, baking up a storm and it was so much fun to plan out what to make and find recipes. As there were a few people coming, I wanted to make things that would appeal to everyone and not have anything too fussy to prepare on the day. This was the final lineup of treats that awaited my friends:
Chocolate pavlova, cupcakes - carrot, coffee and vanilla flavoured, Nanaimo bars, passion fruit melting moments, Portuguese custard tarts, mini quiches, toasted baguette slices with pesto & parmesan shavings and cheese & parma ham open sandwiches. Not pictured was a huge tin of scones with a choice of plain, fruity and cheese & apple.

I was really lucky to have enough freezer space to be able to freeze the scones, Nanaimo bars and cupcakes in advance. The cupcakes and bars freeze well after being made (I iced the cupcakes that morning) and the scones I froze as dough, after I'd cut them. The best way to do this is to lay the fresh dough onto a baking sheet to harden and then pop into a freezer bag until required. It was lovely just to be able to take them out an hour before people turned up so they were still warm.

I wanted an impressive centrepiece for the afternoon tea and I decided to make Nigella Lawson's chocolate pavlova, in three layers, as inspired by What Katie Ate's amazingly beautiful effort. It was certainly a labour of love with three layers of pavlova, which meant adapting the recipe slightly to 9 eggs. I also tried baking the pavlova layers in tins, as inspired by this recipe by Delicious magazine. I had images of perfectly formed I will definitely not be doing that again and will be m perfectly happy with the au naturale look next time. Getting pavs out was a bit of a nightmare and the cracking was far worse than baking them on sheets. But still, they looke fine - anyone that's made a cracked pavlova will know that whipped cream covers a multitude of sins. It tasted amazing and it's worth getting a good quality dark chocolate to add to the mix as these tiny flecks of chocolate combined with the raspberries made the cake extra special. 

I'll post up some of the other recipes from the afternoon tea later in the week - I spent a lot of time looking for the best afternoon tea recipes and there was some good stuff on the table!

Three Layer Chocolate Pavlova

9 egg whites
450g caster sugar
4 and half tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
1 and half teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
75g dark chocolate, finely chopped

750ml double cream
1 punnet raspberries
2-3 tablespoons grated dark chocolate

Method: 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.  Use a medium plate (around 9") to trace three round shapes onto baking paper and line a baking tray with this parchment (or if you're feeling brave, grease three 9" cake tins, line the bases with paper and then grease again.
2. Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle using the drawn circles as a guide, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 120°C/gas mark 2 and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.
3. When you're ready to serve, invert on to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile a third on top of the meringue, then scatter over some raspberries. Allow some raspberries to poke out of the side and if desired, use a star tip to pipe some whipped cream right on the edges.  Place the next layer of pavlova on top and then repeat with another third of the whipped cream and raspberries.  Add the final layer on top and top with half the remaining whipped cream and then star pipe rounds of cream around the edges.  Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious colour and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate's rim.


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