I’ve been getting lost in cookbooks again. It’s a favourite habit of mine, second only to buying cookbooks. There’s something wonderful about discovering a new cuisine or way of thinking about food that helps us to learn something more about what makes us human. After all, the theory goes that it was cooking that really enabled us to evolve into what we are today (yes, I’ve also been reading Cooked by Michael Pollan). My latest cookbook crushes have been Gather by Gill Meller and Samarkand by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford – both wonderful in different ways. Gather evokes the British countryside in a way I’ve rarely seen in food writing; the mix of poetry, archetypal landscapes and dishes created from simple, beautiful ingredients makes this book more of a work of art than a cookbook. Samarkand is at the other end of the scale; part cookbook, part travel essay, but again, wonderfully evocative of place.
Despite all this newness, I’ve actually been finding the most inspiration lately from a cookbook that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years: The Modern Pantry Cookbook by the wonderful Anna Hansen. I’ve visited The Modern Pantry on a couple of occasions and loved everything I’ve tried. The way Anna uses ingredients to create explosive flavour combinations regardless of their provenance is fascinating, if a little difficult to imitate (depending on your budget). Naturally, I turned to her book when deciding on a dessert to bring to a friend’s BBQ, and, with some heavy adaptations, ended up with a winner! So here is my homage to The Modern Pantry, using various parts of different recipes from the cookbook to create mini muscovado pavlovas with plums and grapes. I’m hoping Anna won’t mind, after all, as she says in The Modern Pantry Cookbook:
” … if there’s an ingredient you cannot find, why not take the opportunity to have some fun experimenting? To me that is what cooking is all about.”
This recipe works well if you need to make a dessert in advance and is naturally gluten-free, so will keep just about everyone happy. The meringues will keep well in a tin for up to 1 week, and the fruit can happily be stored in the fridge for the same amount of time. I made and transported the component parts separately and let everyone assemble their own. The meringues aren’t strictly speaking your traditional pavlova meringues, being chewy rather than marshmallowy in the middle, but the flavour of the muscovado sugar really shines through to make this dessert extra special.
Mini plum and muscovado pavlovas
Individual muscovado meringues served with vanilla cream and roasted red grapes and plums.
For the roasted fruit:
1 punnet of red grapes
4 very large plums (or 8 Victoria plums)
2 tbsp demerara sugar
50ml white wine
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
Juice of half a lemon
For the meringues:
4 egg whites
300g icing sugar
Juice of half a lemon
80g muscovado sugar
300ml double cream
1tbsp golden caster sugar
1tsp vanilla bean paste
- First make the roasted fruit: Remove the stones and cut the plums into eighths (or quarters if using smaller plums).
- Place into a roasting tin with the destalked grapes. Sprinkle over the sugar, lemon juice, white wine and pomegranate molasses, and roast, uncovered at 140°C (fan) for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and leave to go completely cold.
- For the meringues: Sift the icing sugar well to make sure there are no lumps. Wipe down the bowl and whisks of the mixer with lemon juice to ensure no traces of fat remain on the surface, as this can make the meringues collapse.
- Whisk together the egg whites, icing sugar and lemon juice for 15 minutes on high with a free-standing electric mixer. If, like me, you only have a handheld mixer, I suggest whisking the egg whites on setting 2 for ten minutes, having a break for a couple of minutes, then whisking again for five minutes. This doesn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on the meringues and stops the motor on the whisk from burning out.
- Push the muscovado sugar through a sieve and fold through the meringue mixture.
- Dollop the mixture onto two lined baking sheets – it should make 12 good-sized meringues – and bake at 100°C (fan) for 2 hours.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
- To assemble: Whip together the double cream, caster sugar and vanilla bean paste, taking care not to over whip.
- When ready to serve, top each meringue with a good blob of cream and spoon over the roasted fruit and juices.