Ways with curd
For reasons that are unclear, I am often asked to define Australian cuisine, or to nominate a quintessential Australian dish. After years of consideration, I now answer meringue with passionfruit – or, more specifically, the famous meringue “cake”, pavlova. Being my first introduction to passionfruit, it is to this day my favourite application for the fruit, its acid balancing the almost sickly sweet meringue.
Another name for passionfruit is water lemon – which usually refers to an American variety with yellow and orange skin – and its tartness has seen its juice cross over to the savoury world, memorably in Heston Blumenthal’s dish of oyster and passionfruit jelly.
One of my first jobs, and one that I leave off my CV, was as an apprentice to a French pastry chef. It was an absolutely horrible restaurant run by an equally horrible restaurateur. I was young and none the wiser. The pastry chef, though, was quite nice. He took me under his wing and taught me many of the basic skills, classical desserts and pastries.
This place had all the bells and whistles, and came complete with a dessert trolley, one of the few in Melbourne at the time. The dessert trolley is an almost extinct piece of culinary history.
Last time I was in Paris I dined in one of the oldest and grandest restaurants.
Here it was all about the trolley. From the champagne trolley on arrival, dinner was either served from, or carved on, one of the many trolleys cruising around the room. Each waiter wheeled their trolley gracefully, with pride and skill. At the end of the meal the dessert trolley appeared, driven by a charming waiter. We were taken through the list; most of the great French pastries and gateaux were present. While I enjoyed the ceremony, I found a lot of the desserts so laden with gelatine to keep things pert that it really affected the texture and freshness of some of the pastries.
As an apprentice, when I was charged with loading up the dessert trolley, it was the oeufs à la neige (eggs in snow), also called ile flottante (floating island), that sold out first. To make floating islands we whipped egg whites, sugar and a little vanilla to a meringue texture. Once cooked, the islands were presented in an enormous but beautiful silverware ice bucket, half filled with crème anglaise. The cool islands were placed into the pool of anglaise where they floated and bobbed nicely as the trolley was wheeled from table to table. The waiters served the islands tableside with a spoon of crème anglaise and finished the dessert with a drizzle of caramel sauce. The waiter sprinkled a flourish of toasted almonds from a ridiculous height, the arm extended straight above the head for the finale. It was a wonderful tradition and a little theatre, albeit staid. The meringue lives on.
Meringue with passionfruit curd
These meringues are best served on the day they are baked, when they’ll be crisp on the outside, with a soft and chewy interior.
– 3 egg whites
– 170g castor sugar
Preheat oven to 140ºC.
Using a kitchen mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. As the whites begin to develop volume, gradually add half of the sugar. Whisk for another minute or until the whites are glossy and stiff. Using a spatula, fold the remaining half of the sugar through the egg whites.
With a large kitchen spoon, scoop equal sized and evenly spaced meringues onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for one hour, checking from time to time. If the meringues start to discolour, turn the temperature down a touch.
When cooked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
To serve the meringues, place on a dessert plate, top with a tablespoon of passionfruit curd (see recipe below) and a tablespoon of whipped cream. Finally, spoon one teaspoon of passionfruit pulp straight from the shell onto the meringue. Any extra cream and passionfruit curd should be served in a bowl on the table for people to help themselves. Any leftovers will be delicious spread on toast.
Passionfruit comes in various sizes and degrees of ripeness, which makes it impossible to estimate how much juice each piece will yield. Start with eight and if you don’t have enough juice, make the difference up with a little lemon juice.
– pulp of 8 passionfruits, strained to make 170g or 170g tin of passionfruit pulp and the juice of 1 lemon
– ½ cup sugar
– 2 whole eggs and 1 yolk
– 60g butter
– pinch salt
– 1 lemon, zested
– 1 vanilla bean, scraped
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, passionfruit juice, salt, lemon zest and vanilla. When the butter comes to a simmer, slowly pour over the egg mixture while whisking. Return the ingredients to the small saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook until the curd thickens. Strain the hot curd through a sieve, transfer to a bowl and cool in the fridge.
2009 Pressing Matters R139 late-picked riesling, Coal River Valley, Tasmania (375ml, $28) – Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc.