“Yeah, but Australians are just stupid party Brits aren’t they?”
Um. That would be my family. My other home on the other side of the world, where it’s always sunny. Where Christmas day is spent on the balcony, then on the beach. Where jellyfish swipe at your ankles and green parakeets join you for breakfast.
In my unbiased opinion, Australians tend to be bright, generous and alarmingly cheerful. They do like parties. But they also like telling stories, entertaining, welcoming people. They love pavlova: the classic Australian dessert. A light confection of spun sugar, cream and fruit with crunchy meringue edges and a soft, pillowy marshmallow centre. Easy to make and to eat in the hot weather, following that stereotypical barbecue. Perfect to feed and impress a crowd of friends with a sprawling passionfruit pavlova.
My version is half-English, like me, with an added sarcastic edge. (Ha.) That is, the tang of the rhubarb cuts the sweetness of the meringue. The lemon curd is sweet, sour and rich all at once as well as being the most beautiful sunshine shade of yellow. Because rhubarb is an ugly animal, I layered it under whipped lemon-cream and topped it all with swirls of lemon curd and shards of caramelised nuts. For added flair.
Rhubarb peel is ever so pretty – long ribbons that fade from deep pink to pale green. These stalks were tough and fat and looked in need of a good peeling. But then I lost all of the beautiful pink. What to do? Are you supposed to peel rhubarb?
4 sticks rhubarb
1 orange, juice and zest
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
Chop the rhubarb into large chunks. Rub the orange zest into the sugar with your fingers to release extra flavour. Stir in the orange juice, then toss in the rhubarb. Tip it all into a large baking tray and bake at 180C for about 40 minutes. The rhubarb should be soft but not quite mush.
juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp sugar
50g butter, cubed
In a small saucepan, mix the egg, juice and zest and sugar. Whisk constantly over a medium heat to thicken and just come to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter. When it has nicely melted, tip the lemon curd into a bowl and leave to cool. Refrigerate.
4 egg whites
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 tsp wine vinegar
1 tbs cornflour
Before you start: put the oven onto its hottest setting – probably about 250C.
Beat the egg whites until so stiff that you can hold the bowl upside down over your head. Add a spoonful of sugar and beat to the same stiffness. Continue adding sugar and beating. When there is only a little sugar left, beat the wine vinegar into the egg whites. Finally add the rest of the sugar and the cornflour. Beat until stiff and smooth and shiny.
On a large baking tray covered with baking paper, shape one large circle or eight small meringue nests. Turn the oven down to about 150C and pop meringues in the oven. Bake for an hour then leave them in the oven once it has been turned off.
Rhubarb lemon curd pavlova
1 large or 8 small meringues
1 quantity lemon curd
1 batch roast rhubarb
200ml creme fraiche plus a splash milk (or just 200ml double cream)
for praline: 75g nuts (almonds or hazelnuts)
75g caster sugar
Roughly chop the nuts. In a medium size saucepan, heat the sugar. Do not stir. Allow it to melt, then brown, to a rich dark caramel. Quickly stir in the nuts then thinly spread the mixture onto a piece of baking paper. Cool then break up into small shards.
Beat the creme fraiche with a tablespoon of milk to floppy peaks. Carefully stir in two big spoonfuls of lemon curd.
Pile the rhubarb onto the pavlova. Top with the whipped lemon cream. Smooth out carefully leaving a glimpse of rhubarb at the edges. Drizzle the rest of the lemon curd on top. Sprinkle with praline for added effect.