Beginner’s guide to baking: How to make the perfect pavlova

how to make the perfect pavlova

This post is part of our beginner’s guide to baking series – catch up on the other post here and here.

Ever wondered what the trick is to making the perfect pav? Just like everything in baking, it all comes back to a bit of basic science! Here’s everything you need to know to help you make the perfect pavlova every single time.

Do I really need to use old eggs?
If you’re after the best results, the answer is definitely yes! When it comes down to it, pavs are really just made from two key ingredients – eggs and sugar – so it’s important that you make sure these are spot on.

Fresh eggs have thick egg whites which, while great for some things, isn’t ideal when you’re whipping up a pav as it’s harder to get the right amount of volume. Luckily, as eggs age the egg whites thin and create more volume when beaten. Basically, with older eggs you can whip more air into the mixture, giving you a beautifully light and airy pav!

What type of sugar should I use?
While some recipes use standard white sugar, I always use caster sugar when making a pavlova – just like eggs, it all comes back to getting the maximum amount of volume into your mixture.

Remember what I mentioned last time about how sugar digs away at butter to aerate it when you cream them together? Well, this is pretty much the same principle.

Caster sugar is super-fine white sugar, so every spoonful of caster sugar has a greater number of sugar crystals than standard white sugar. When you whip them into your egg white, the jagged edges of the caster sugar help aerate the eggs so your finished meringue mixture is light and airy, just how it should be.

Plus, because the crystals are smaller in caster sugar, it’s easier to dissolve – saving both you time and the pav from being over-beaten.

Can I overbeat the mixture?
Absolutely! Overbeating your meringue mixture causes too many bonds to form between the egg proteins, which basically makes the mixture too tight. This can cause a range of problems like cracking, oozing and collapsing. Not ideal, right?

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Why do pavlovas have vinegar in them?
Adding vinegar to your pavlova mixture helps prevent those nasty side-effects of accidental overbeating by neutralising some of those tight egg proteins.

Vinegar is an acid which means it’s packed with positively charged particles. When added to your mixture, these seek out any charged proteins and neutralise them – helping prevent pavlova disaster!

How about cornflour – what does that do?
Just like vinegar, cornflour also helps keep your egg proteins in line by creating a buffer to help prevent them from overcooking during all that time in the oven. After all, a pav wouldn’t be a pav without being gorgeously marshmallowy inside!

Adding a little cornflour (or arrowroot) to your mixture also helps prevent the egg whites from weeping in the oven – that means no any sticky clear liquid hanging around the base of your pav.

So even though there are only a handful of ingredients in pavlova, there’s actually a lot going on, right? And with so much to keep in mind while you’re baking, it’s totally natural to feel a bit exhausted afterwards.

Fisher & Paykel totally get it, so have created a clever feature on some of their ovens that takes some of the pressure off busy bakers – the cleaning! A range of Fisher & Paykel ovens have a clever Pyrolitic self-cleaning function that takes the chore out of cleaning by naturally breaking down food residue inside the oven at a very high temperature. That means you can throw out those awful oven cleaning sprays and simply wipe out the light ash that remains with a damp cloth. Pretty impressive, huh?

To help Kiwi bakers and cooks get the most out of their time in the kitchen, Fisher & Paykel have created eight different cooking styles – if you know why you cook the way you do, you’re more likely to get the best results. Pop over to the Fisher & Paykel website and do their ‘What’s Your Cooking Style’ quiz – you might be surprised!

Now that you’re a bit of a pavlova expert it’s time to give it a go yourself. Here’s one of my favourite recipes for an awesome pav to help get you started – happy baking!

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Simple pavlova

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 6 Tbsp boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp cornflour
  • 1 ½ cups caster sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a circle around a side-plate or small cake tin to use as a guide.
  2. Place egg whites in a large bowl and beat on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add caster sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until mixture is thick and glossy (approx. 10 minutes).
  3. Add vanilla, vinegar, boiling water and cornflour and mix for a further 20-30 seconds, until combined. Mixture should be stiff and bowl able to be tipped upside down without anything moving.
  4. Spoon mixture onto prepared baking tray, using traced circle as a guide.
  5. Place in oven and cook for 10 minutes before turning the oven off. Leave pavlova in the oven without opening the door for at least one hour – longer if you have time.
  6. Top with whipped cream and your favourite berries to serve.

This post was made possible thanks to Fisher & Paykel. All words, photos and opinions are, and always will be, my own.



Beginner’s guide to baking: Butter – why temperature matters

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This post is part of our beginner’s guide to baking series – catch up on the other post here.

Ever wonder why some recipes call for room temperature butter, while others need cold? Or what to do when a recipe doesn’t specify a temperature at all? I know it’s tempting just to grab a block of butter and start using it, but the temperature of your butter really does matter.  

Why do some recipes ask for room temperature butter?
Most recipes that call for butter to be room temperature have one of two things going on – you’re either going to cream it with sugar, or combine it with something liquid like milk or eggs.

Let’s start with creaming butter and sugar. Just like pretty crystals in a shop, sugar crystals have jagged edges – and that’s actually really important. As you cream room temperature butter and sugar, the sugar is busy digging out little air pockets in the butter. Leave them mixing away for a few minutes in this sweet spot and the mixture becomes smooth, pale and creamy – that’s how you know your creaming is done!

If your butter’s too cold, the sugar isn’t able to dig through the butter the way it should. Too warm? Then the sugar will just scratch around, rather than digging out little airy pockets.

When you’re adding milk or eggs to butter, you want them to combine together beautifully – and to do that, you need room temperature butter (and other ingredients!) If your butter’s cold, it’ll contract together into cold little pieces which stops it from blending together the way you need it to. That’s why you might end up with a curdled or grainy looking batter – not great!

When you bake, the little air pockets you’ve created in the nice room temperature butter give the mixture room to rise – the bubbles from your baking soda and powder fill the space and puff it up.

Psst – find more info about how baking soda and powder work here.

How can I tell if it’s room temperature?
This is easy – you should be able to press your finger into it and easily leave an indent, without your finger sliding around or the whole block caving in.

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I’m in a hurry – how can I warm my butter quickly?
While leaving your butter on the counter for an hour really is the best way to bring it to room temperature, that’s not always practical. Luckily there are a few other things you can try in a pinch:

  • Cube your butter into small pieces and line them up in a sunny spot to warm up. The increased surface area of the butter means it’ll get warmer, faster.
  • Cut the amount of butter you need and pop it on a plate. Fill a glass with hot water and wait until the outside of the glass becomes warm to touch. Pour out the water, quickly dry the glass and invert it over the butter like a dome. The butter will warm up in a couple of minutes – keep an eye on it!
  • You can always use a microwave! Cut the butter you need, place it on a plate and microwave on high for 5 seconds. Open the door, turn the butter and heat for another 5 seconds. Repeat for about 20 seconds until your butter is at room temperature – check by pressing your finger into it gently at each turn.

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Why do some recipes need cold butter?
Many doughs call for cold butter. This is so the butter doesn’t completely blend into the flour when you mix them together. This means that as you roll or press out your dough, the butter gets stretched out and you’re left with long, flat sheets of butter in the dough. Butter contains a lot of water, and this water turns into steam when baked – that helps create layers in your dough. Flaky pastry is the perfect example.

Not all recipes say what temperature it needs to be – what do I do then?
Just have a think about what else is happening in the recipe and go from there. Are you making a dough? Then the butter should almost always be cold. Mixing in liquids, creaming, or trying to make something that needs to rise up nice and fluffy? Then room temperature butter will be the way to go.

The more you learn about the ins and outs of baking the more you realise that it really is a science – every ingredient and instruction is there for a reason. It’s all about striking the perfect balance!

With so much to keep focussed on when you’re baking, it’s really useful to have knowledge and tools on hand to help take the guesswork out of the equation.

That’s why Fisher & Paykel have created a range of intuitive ovens with pre-set functions, which eliminates most of the guesswork when it comes to setting the temperature. This means that the oven sets the most common temperature for whatever you’re cooking –  It’s crazy how clever it is! These ovens come with a recipe menu and digital temperature control so you have exactly what you need to get perfect results every time.

To help Kiwi bakers and cooks get the most out of their time in the kitchen, Fisher & Paykel have created eight different cooking styles – if you know why you cook the way you do, you’re more likely to get the best results. Pop over to the Fisher & Paykel website and do their ‘What’s Your Cooking Style’ quiz – you might be surprised!

Now that you know the science behind baking with butter, it’s time to make the perfect buttercream. Here’s my absolute favourite recipe – I hope you like it!

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Perfect buttercream

Ingredients

  • 200g butter, room temperature
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk, room temperature, to thin

Method

  1. Cube butter and place in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a paddle attachment until smooth, pale and creamy (approx. five minutes)
  2. Add 3 cups icing sugar and 1 Tbsp milk. Mix on low until just combined, then increase to medium and mix for a further 1-2 minutes until well combined.
  3. Add vanilla bean paste and mix for a further 1 minute.
  4. If icing is too thick, add 1 Tbsp milk. If icing is too thin, add additional ½ cup icing sugar.

This post was made possible thanks to Fisher & Paykel. All words and images are, and always will be, my own.



Beginner’s guide to baking: Baking powder vs. baking soda

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Ever wondered what all those different kinds of sugar are all about? Or why the temperature of butter really matters? Then you’ll love this new series covering off all the basics of baking – from why ingredients are important right through to how to set up your kitchen. Have a burning question? Then pop it in the comments below and I’ll try and cover it off in an upcoming post.

First off we’re taking a look at those two little white powders that seem to do the same thing, but you always seem to need the one you don’t have – baking powder and baking soda! While they’re both leaveners (which means they make things rise), they’re actually pretty different. So…

What is baking soda and when do I use it?
Time for my sixth form chemistry to shine! Remember the whole base vs. acid thing from high school? Well that’s pretty much what this comes back to. Baking soda is a base, which means that when you mix it with an acid it’ll react to create something – in baking, that means carbon dioxide which puffs up your baking.

Basically, when you see baking soda in a recipe there will also be some kind of acid in there – maybe lemon juice, buttermilk, yoghurt or brown sugar. You need to have this acid there for the baking soda to react with, otherwise your baking won’t rise and will have a strange metallic taste to it.
The trick is making sure you use just the right amount of baking soda in your baking – that means measuring carefully! Baking soda is pretty strong (about three times more powerful than baking powder) and you need to hit the sweet spot between having enough to react with the amount of acid in your recipe – that way, no metallic after taste.

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How about baking powder?
So baking powder is actually a mixture of a couple of things – baking soda, cream of tartar and often a little cornflour. The clever thing is that cream of tartar is actually an acid (just a dry one!), so the baking soda already has the right amount of acid to react with in every teaspoon.

Because of this, you’ll notice that baking powder is usually used when there isn’t another acid in a recipe. But, because life’s not always simple, there are always exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes you have a recipe that uses an acid that you don’t want to use up through a reaction with baking soda – for example, you might want a tang of lemon or yoghurt in your cake. In that case, you’d use baking powder instead of baking soda so the acid can live on the baking, bringing in all that lovely tangy flavour.  

Why do some recipes need both?
These recipes usually have some acid in them, but not enough for a reaction with baking soda to create the lift that’s needed. If that’s the case, baking powder is used as well to give the recipe that little boost it needs. You need to strike the perfect balance.

If I’m playing around with my own recipe, how much do I need to use?
As you can probably tell, it really does vary. But as a general rule, use around ¼ tsp of baking soda OR 1 tsp of baking powder for every cup of flour in a recipe.

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Pretty interesting, right? Whether you’re just getting into baking or are already a keen cook, knowing why things work the way they do is such a helpful skill to have – I know I love it!

If knowing the ins and outs of baking soda and powder was super interesting to you, then you might be a Curious Novice – you’re keen to improve your skills, enjoy a good recipe book, love giving things a go yourself and are curious about why things work the way they do.

Sound like you? Maybe not? Fisher & Paykel have created eight different cooking styles to help Kiwis get the most out of their time in the kitchen – if you know why you cook the way you do, you’re more likely to get the best results.

Either way, pop over to the Fisher & Paykel website and do their ‘What’s Your Cooking Style’ quiz – you might be surprised!  

Now that you’re a baking soda and powder pro, check out my recipe for blueberry and lemon scones below and see if you can work out why baking powder is used over baking soda. Good luck!

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Blueberry and lemon scones
Makes six. Recipe adapted from Radio New Zealand.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 4 Tbsp caster sugar
  • 80g butter, cold
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ cup natural, unsweetened yoghurt
  • ¾ cup milk

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and caster sugar.
  3. Grate butter and add to dry ingredients, tossing to mix. Add blueberries and lemon zest and mix until combined.
  4. Combine yoghurt and milk in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour onto other ingredients and mix with a butter knife until just combined.
  5. Scoop batter onto a floured bench and shape into a rectangle around 3cm (two fingers) thick. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. Cut into six squares.
  6. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Cool slightly before serving.

This post was made possible thanks to Fisher & Paykel. All words and images are, and always will be, my own.