Here in Australia we celebrate Christmas in the summer. For someone who was raised in the northern hemisphere, I still cannot get my head around that strangeness. Another interesting fact of the Aussie festive season is that our favourite and traditional desert for Christmas is the pavlova. The tradition is said to have started in the 1920s when the famed ballet dancer visited Australia and New-Zealand and one ingenious hotel pastry chef created the desert in her honour.
There are as many recipes for this dish as there are Aussies. Amongst them, my absolute favourite is the Cherry and Coconut Pavlova. For us here, who walk upside down relative to our Northern cousins, December is the season for fresh cherries down in the cool south, and coconuts up in the hot northern tropics. So what better way to celebrate turning the seasons on their heads than by combining cherries and coconuts into a tropical Christmas dessert? This is what I will be making this Christmas in the sweltering heat of the summer.
The credit for this recipe must go to www.delicious.com.au.
- 6 egg whites
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 cups (330g) caster sugar
- 2 tbs cornflour
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1/3 cup (30g) desiccated coconut
- 300g jar good-quality cherry jam, room
temperature, stirred to loosen
- Fresh cherries & baby mint leaves, to
- 500g sour cream
- 100g thickened cream
- 100g coconut cream (cream taken from the top
of the can. Reserve remaining cream for another use)
- 80g icing sugar mixture
- 2 tbs Malibu or coconut essence
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Draw a rough 18cm x 33cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper and use to line a large greased oven tray.
2. Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium speed to soft peaks. With the motor running, add 1 tbs sugar every 30 seconds and continue whisking until well incorporated. Whisk for a further 5 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy and the sugar has dissolved.
3. Add the cornflour and whisk until combined, then whisk in the white vinegar. Fold through coconut. Place the meringue into the centre of the rectangle and, using a palette knife, spread the meringue into the shape of the rectangle with waves and swirls on top.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 100°C. Bake the pavlova for 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until dry to touch. Turn off the oven and let cool in the oven overnight or until cooled completely.
5. For the coconut cream, whisk the creams and sugar in a stand mixer to soft peaks, then fold in the coconut liquor. Refrigerate until ready to use.
6. Place meringue on a serving platter and spread with cream mixture. Drizzle with loosened jam and scatter with extra fresh cherries and mint leaves to serve.
There was a time before the bridge was forged, but those stories had been mostly forgotten. The dark history of that bygone age was now buried in the archives of the priests. Only the echoes of it remained on the tongues of minstrels and drunks. Elika had heard them all and each tale seemed more terrible and unimaginable than the other.
Those were dismal times of endless wars—men against magic, magic against men. The time when even the storms and rains were at the mercy of magic and its fickle moods. It might snow in the summer, or the hot winds might carry sand upon them, burying entire cities. Honest travelers feared to ride through the forest, lest the trees attacked them. A farmer might wake up to find his river flowing the wrong way or dried up altogether. Those days were gone and might have been forgotten, but for this stark reminder before Elika’s eyes.
And who had not stood before the dark bridge in their last moments, facing that choice they all must one day make?
Like that hoary, old codger in the ale-stained uniform of the city’s Blue Guard who had stood before the bridge for nigh on an hour; unsteady on his legs, his sour breath steaming in the crisp, winter night, drinking deeply of the cheap gin, which was as likely to kill him by morning as what he now faced. He took a long swig out of his bottle as he braced himself for the unknown fate ahead.
Elika sat huddled in the doorway of an abandoned house, watching him, needing to know whether he would reach the other side or die crossing. Her ears filled with the howling winds rising from the great chasm, and she did not need to imagine what he was thinking, staring as he did at the monstrous bridge and the lifeless bank beyond, for she was thinking the same—surely it is better than what remains at our back. Better than what approaches.
She clutched the cloak tighter around herself against the biting gust of wind trying to rip it from her. She had scavenged the woolen cloak some days ago from a dead beggar, and it still smelled of his mustiness. She pulled up her knees to her chest and clamped her icy hands under her arms.
The stone wall was cold at her back. Her breath steamed. She waited and watched the old guard take another wobbly step toward the bridge, seeking courage in his gin-dulled mind. He took another gulp, stared at the empty bottle in surprise, then threw it aside with a foul curse. The bottle hit the frozen ground and rolled off the edge of their world into the chasm, to fall for eternity in that endless darkness.