Grandma declares that cooks are born either cuisine or pastry chefs, but never both. The character traits required are quite different. She insists that great savory cuisine is not a matter of fixed measures and quantities but of instinctive adjustments to master recipes to suit the ingredients from day to day and to allow for an individual style. Pastry, on the other hand, demands meticulous care. The pastry chef Albertf Jorant at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris reminded her of a Swiss watchmaker as he measured and mixed and shaped with rigid discipline. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Swiss are such excellent pâtissiers.
Grandma is a cuisine cook by nature, making meringues has never been her forte. It took an Australian to teach her a meringue dessert she always gets right. The little bit of cornflour and the vinegar in Pavlova give the meringue a marshmallow-like texture and seem to render it much more amenable to her ministrations. Kiwi, the traditional fruit for Pavlova, is too bland for Grandma, she trends towards tropical fruits like mango and papaya, with some orange for tartness.
A medium box of strawberries (about 250 g/8 oz)
2-3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch liqueur
For the meringue:
6 egg whites
330 g /12 oz sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon white vinegar
For the Chantilly cream
1 ½ cups/375 ml heavy cream, stiffly whipped
1-2 tablespoons sugar
A few drops vanilla essence
Pastry bag and a medium star tube
1. Heat the oven to 120˚C/250˚F. Butter and flour a baking sheet, discarding the excess, or line it with silicone paper. Mark a 10-inch/25-cm circle with a flan ring or pan lid.
2. For the meringue: Stiffly whip the egg whites, add in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and continue whipping until the mixture is glossy and forms long peaks, about 30 seconds. Sift the corn starch with the remaining sugar and fold it into the egg whites, followed by the vinegar. Pile the mixture on to the baking sheet and spread to a round, hollowing the centre slightly.
3. Bake the pavlova in the oven until it is cream coloured and firm, but still soft inside 1¼-1½ hours. The pavlova will become crisp as it cools. (Note: if it starts to brown during cooking, lower the heat and cover loosely with foil.) Let the pavlova cool to lukewarm, then lift it off the baking sheet or peel off the paper. It can be stored for up to a week in an air-tight container.
4. Not more than 2 hours before serving, hull the strawberries and cut them in half, reserving about a third for decoration. Sprinkle the cut berries with sugar and kirsch. Make the Chantilly cream: Set the pavlova on a serving dish or tray and spoon in half the cream. Spread the cut strawberries on top. Scoop the remaining cream into the pastry bag fitted with the star tube and top the cut berries with rosettes. Decorate the pavlova with the whole berries and chill until serving time.