A seasonal celebration from Rosie Birkett
While winter desserts can’t compete with the flamboyant fruits of the warmer months, there’s something satisfyingly creative about working with a limited larder at this time of year. Invariably I’ll turn to perky citrus and the comfort of warming spice and caramel, and this dessert combines all of these into a cloud of whipped cream, cardamom-flecked custard and muscovado meringue, topped with oranges soaked through with a deep, dark caramel. Tasted on its own, the caramel has a bracing bitterness, but together with the sweetness of the oranges, custard and meringue, it becomes something magical.
For the cardamom custard:
150ml double cream
150ml whole milk
40g golden caster sugar
10 cardamom pods, lightly smashed in a pestle and mortar
2 medium egg yolks
For the meringues:
4 medium sized egg whites (keep 2 yolks for the custard)
175g golden caster sugar
75g light muscovado sugar
½ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the caramelised oranges:
3 oranges, peeled of skin and pith and finely sliced into rounds
80g golden caster sugar
20g dark muscovado sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
A couple of sprigs of rosemary
300ml double cream
To make the custard, pour the cream, milk, 20g caster sugar and a pinch of salt into a pan and gently bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once little bubbles start to pop on the surface, remove from the heat and stir in the cardamom. Allow to cool and infuse for about an hour.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the other 20g sugar and the cornflour until frothy and pale. Strain the infused cream, return to the pan and bring to just below the boil. Drop 1 tbsp hot cream mix into the egg mixture and whisk through, then pour in the remaining hot cream and whisk until well combined.
Wash and dry the saucepan. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over a low-medium heat, bringing slowly to the boil. Stir until the cornflour is cooked out and the mixture thickens—a few minutes. Remove from the heat, strain into a bowl, then cool by placing in a larger bowl of iced water. Cover the surface with clingfilm to avoid a skin developing, then chill for 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
To make the meringues, heat the oven to 150C. Combine the sugars, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt in a bowl and rub out any lumps. Put your egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk on your stand mixer or electric whisk’s highest setting until stiff peaks form. Without stopping the whisk, add the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, allowing each addition to incorporate into the egg whites. Pour in the vanilla and keep whisking for 5-6 mins. The mixture should be glossy, smooth and fluffy.
Cover two flat baking sheets with greaseproof paper—use some residual mix from the whisk blades to stick the paper down. Using a metal spoon, divide the egg white mixture between the two lined sheets, dolloping it on and spreading it out into circles the size of small dinner plates, 20-25cm, using the back and edges of the spoon to create cloud-like wisps and peaks. Bake for 35-40 mins. Turn the heat off and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven.
Place the orange slices in a bowl. Combine the sugars and a pinch of salt in a non-stick frying pan and place over a medium-low heat. Without stirring, heat gently until melted. Now gingerly (it will sizzle, spit and bubble) add the orange zest, juice and rosemary and stir over heat with a wooden spoon until you have a caramel. Add 1 tbsp water if it needs thinning—it needs to be the consistency of orange juice. Pour this caramel onto the oranges and allow them to sit while you prep the rest of the pavlova.
Whip the 300ml double cream to soft peaks. Remove the custard from the fridge. Fold 1 tbsp orange caramel syrup and all of the custard through the cream. Carefully peel the parchment from the meringue discs and, using a palette knife, lift one onto a serving platter or cake stand. Spread most of the creamy mixture onto the base meringue, saving some to cover the top layer, top with half the orange slices, then crown with the other meringue. Pile the remaining creamy mix onto the top meringue and cover with the remaining orange slices. Drizzle with a little more syrup, and serve.
Recipe: Rosie Birkett
Images: Issy Croker