After I graduated from my undergraduate degree, I went on a little trip: Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and India for a year. I spent the first few months guiding dives and occasionally crewing a whale watching boat on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The next six months I spent in New Zealand. I decided to settle in the beautiful city of Wellington for a few months, get a job and save some money for the next legs of my trip.
Wellington was just the place for me. I think I probably liked it so much because it was so much like Halifax, the city with this magnetic allure which has called me back many times over the years. Welly had a beautiful harbour surrounded by steeply graded, richly green landscape. The cafe, restaurant and bar scene thrived (I’ve never had so many consistently amazing cups of espresso in my life as in my days in Wellington). I worked weekdays at The Body Shop (worst job ever) and weekends at a French patisserie called Dorothy’s. I walked to the local pool to swim laps regularly, and I lived with seven people in a beautiful house on the top of a hill. We had our own lemon tree, and regularly made pancakes and spag bol while listening to Andrea Bocelli (but that’s another story altogether).
Dorothy’s was my favourite place to be, aside from playing my guitar under the lemon tree. I apprenticed as a barista, and after three months of training, I was finally allowed to pour a latte for a living, breathing, customer. I learned the fine art of espresso extraction, milk steaming and latte art, and reveled in the frantic yet rhythmic Saturday morning rush behind the heat and whirr of the coffee machine. I loved looking at the long counter with hundreds of artistically decorated cakes, chocolates and petits fours behind the glass. I looked forward each week to boxing up a dozen biscotti and making a couple lattes for a man who came in on Saturdays that I imagined would take the treats home to his wife where they would read the newspaper together under the covers. I hoped that one day I’d meet a man who’d do the same.
As Christmas approached, my family back home in Canada told me that they wanted to come visit. I was ecstatic. I’d been away for about six months and sometimes homesickness hollowed my heart and left my aching for family and familiarity. On Christmas Day, myself and my housemates hosted my family and the little family of backpackers we had haphazardly accumulated over the months. We had a traditional turkey dinner, but for dessert we had a traditional New Zealand dish: pavlova. I still remember its impossibly light, crisp exterior and the chewy centre, and the way whipped cream and tart berries completed each bite. I make pavlova every so often now – it’s a really easy dessert, but it’s impressive too. Those are my favourite.
Here’s what you need:
1/4 cup sugar for each egg white (so, 1 1/2 cups – but saying it this way helps you to increase or decrease your quantities if you want)
6 egg whites
1 tsp. cornstarch
a little vinegar
Here’s what you do:
Preheat your oven to 275F. Crack your eggs, separating your whites from your yolks.
Using an electric mixer, start mixing the egg whites. They will start to get white and frothy, and after a while will begin to form soft peaks in the bowl.
At this point, gradually add the sugar, one quarter cup at a time, while beating. The mixture will thicken up considerably now, with stiff peaks forming. Add the cornstarch and about a capful of white vinegar, and beat until just mixed.
Line one or more baking sheets with parchment paper. Your pavlova can be one big pavlova or a bunch of little ones. Here, I did a bunch of little ones (note: they don’t take as long to cook that way). Spread the mixture out onto the parchment in a circle about 2″ high and however wide you want it. Place in the oven.
Your pavlovas are finished when you start to notice their exteriors cracking a little bit (mine browned a bit too…not sure why).
At this point, turn the heat in the oven off and allow to cool fully before removing the desserts. Serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Recipe adapted from Chef Michael Smith.