Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pavlova quest part II

The quest for the perfect pavlova continues. A visit from the in laws coupled with making ice cream resulted in 12 eggs whites going begging. The first attempt followed my previous protocol, but wary of warnings about overheating, I stopped just when I felt no grit in my meringue (i.e. All the sugar was dissolved, about 5-6 minutes beating). This resulted in stiff peaks and a meringue that held its uncooked shape well, but not as stiff as I would usually use. Baked on the second lowest rack, preheated to 180 and then turned down to 150 for 30 mins, followed by 120 for another 45.

And here's the baked result.....

Disappointing to say the least.

So of course I had to try again.  After much googling, I discovered this wonderful site:
Which is really what I have been looking for - a comparison of different techniques (the scientific method at work!). As it happened I was also concerned with exactly how much egg white there is in a "large egg"' so as to convert my bantam egg whites to "large" as used in most recipes.  Turns out it's about 58% of the egg weight! but of course what really matters is the ratio of egg white to sugar. And this great site discusses this at length, finally coming up with a ratio of 1:1.65.  This happens to be pretty much what Stephanie Alexander uses (1:1.8, assuming a standard "large egg" is about 60g, even though in the supermarket these are actually sold as "extra large".... You can see why my obsessive compulsiveness really appreciated someone else's thorough examination of this topic!)

So coupled with my own intuition that my previous meringue just wasn't stiff enough, this website, as well as a continuing niggling feeling my meringues were too brown, I have concluded my major problem (aside from the insufficient beating) was that my oven is just too hot (Ilve do promote how good their ovens are at retaining heat) and didn't respond quickly enough to turning the temp down.

So here's what I changed:
1. Weigh the egg whites - I had 110g from 6 bantam egg whites, so used about 180g caster sugar (I followed the Stephanie Alexander recipe for attempt 1 and used 6 whites to 250g sugar). Cornflour and white vinegar as usual, although I left out the vanilla to try to keep the meringue white - more on this later.
2. Follow the beating protocol in Pavlova quest part I by beating to soft peaks, then adding sugar gradually on speed 6, then upping the speed to 10. I added the sugar much more slowly, taking around 4-5 mins, then when beating on speed 10 I stopped maybe every minute or so to check the stiffness. I was looking for stiff peaks that stood upright when lifting the beaters out, but still curled over when I inverted the beaters (pointing skywards). So pretty stiff, but not yet over beaten. Whole process took about 10 minutes. Apparently, according to Phillipa Sibley, if there's a meringue shaped hole when you lift the beaters, that's way too far.
3. Piled the pav higher and a smaller circle than before, to allow for some spreading.
4. Preheat to 150C only, then turn down to 110C immediately, and bake for two hours. Leave in oven overnight.

And here's the result:

Yep, great height, kept shape beautifully, cracking not too bad (at least compared to previous one!), colour ok. And another photo just to see the height:

So what have I learnt?

I think my oven is still a little too hot as the cracking indicates the meringue was still expanding after the shell had mostly set, but I'm wary about going less than 100C due to issues with weeping that I've had before (100C is a critical temp for cracking, as above this steam is still being generated by the marshmallow part during the drying out of the entire meringue). I'm not sure whether the weeping previously was due to under or over cooking..... Both seem to be possibilities! 

I left out the vanilla as I read it makes the pav look browner, rather than snowy white, but as the second attempt was also pinky brown, albeit much lighter, I think this is more due to the temp being too hot (which also explains cracking) so next experiment is either to preheat a little lower and/or cook at a lower temp.

I also had quite an airspace between the marshmallow and top part of the shell. This doesn't really worry me normally, as I just fill it with cream and fruit, but this time the cracking was slight enough that I didn't really notice until we cut the pav and there was a small collapse! The great website above seems to imply that this is due to an overly long cooking time (as the marshmallow is now shrinking as it loses moisture), so this just points to the need for lower temps (or shorter cook times). Overlooking also causes weeping supposedly, as sugar leaves the mix in solution (excess moisture?). So given my oven retains heat so well maybe I need to also leave the door ajar on cooling, or reduce the temp after say 1 hour.

So many parameters to test, so many pavs to make!

Stay tuned for part 3.....

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