"Well . . . !" said Elizabeth Ann, very much surprised. "I didn’t know it was so easy to cook!"
"Easiest thing in the world," said Aunt Abigail gravely, with the merry wrinkles around her merry old eyes all creased up with silent fun. (Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield)
I think anyone who cooks at all has something that they are terrified to make – for me, for ages, it was Anything With Yeast and Things Made Out of Meringue. I don’t know why I was quite so terrified of beating egg whites, in retrospect (easy!), but I can remember with a grim delight my earliest experiments in yeast breadmaking, these heavy leaden loaves, the size and weight of hockey pucks. Yeast was obviously a mystical substance, requiring near-magical powers to use successfully and I sadly avoided it for the next decade.
Then one day, I was following the Toddler Girl around a children’s library and on display was a breadmaking book for CHILDREN. I seized it and read it from cover to cover – and made my first successful loaf of bread that very night. You should knead your dough, the author wrote, until it feels like your earlobe, smooth and pliant, and with that sentence, breadmaking was solved for me. (Oh, and their cheerful description of how hot the water for yeast should be – not so hot that you can’t hold your finger in it comfortably.) I don’t remember anything else about the book – not the title, definitely not the author – but I owe the mystery author a debt of gratitude.
And meringue was just plain easy. I don’t know what I was worried about with that. Separating eggs? Using a hand blender? Neither of those are very intimidating, but I’d look at a lemon meringue pie and feel overwhelmed. And slightly nauseated – I don’t like meringue on top of pies. But as a Pavlova – oh, that is a DIFFERENT thing!
Pavlova is a delicious dessert that comes originally from Australia – a round meringue disc that gets filled with whipped cream or lemon curd and then topped with fruit.
I made it last night for our Epiphany dinner, it being suitably festive, and yet gluten-free and ALSO low in fat and calories enough not to make my heart feel like it was suddenly coming to a Christmas-glutted stop. (well, low in calories before I piled whipped cream on it. Still.) And it’s easy. And it looks fancy. And it tastes like heaven, really.
4 egg whites
a tiny pinch of salt
1/2 cup of white sugar
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut out a piece of parchment paper (you’ll find this near the wax paper in your grocery store) as big as your cookie sheet, and with a pencil, trace a supper plate onto it. You’ll want an 8 inch circle. Butter the paper – I used baking spray – and move on to making the meringue.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until they’re fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for a few seconds and then ad the vinegar and vanilla. Now you’re going to do some serious egg beating – mix the egg white mixture until it makes stiff peaks – the mixture will be resisting the beaters a bit and when you turn off your mixer and lift it up, little egg mountains should form. Sprinkle the cornstarch on top and lightly blend it in.
Now pile your meringue onto your greased parchment paper and gently spread it around inside the circle. You’ll want to make high sides around the edges and a smooth center, like you’re making a meringue bowl. Put the sheet into the oven and IMMEDIATELY lower the temperature to 250F.
Now leave it there for an hour and a half. When you take it out, it should feel set (and rather like a big piece of stryofoam), but still soft and squishy. If it’s not done, give it another 15 minutes-half an hour. Now let it cool completely – you can make this much earlier in the day and then assemble it right before serving.
To serve, lightly whip some unsweetened cream, and pile that in the center of the Pavlova, leaving the rim untouched. As prettily as you can, arrange cut-up fresh fruit on top of THAT and serve to 6 VERY impressed guests.
Isn’t that EASY? Thanks, in part, to our current gourmet food culture, many people think they can’t cook ANYTHING – but really, anyone can cook. It is, as Aunt Abigail said up at the beginning, the easiest thing in the world and all you need to do is get started.