Saturday, July 3, 2010

MasterChef Challenge: Passionfruit Pavlova

With three contestants from earlier episodes back in play for another shot at the MasterChef title, I thought I'd revisit one of the very first challenges set by Donna Hay. Can you guess what it is? Why it's the pavlova challenge of course!

We all know what pavlova is: crisp and crunchy on the outside with soft, pillowy meringue on the inside and all as white as a cloud on a bright, sunny day. Where most people tend to go wrong in the pav-making process is hmm let's see.. The stage when the egg whites are whisking and the recipe calls to add sugar to create a meringue. If you've read books by the likes of Shirley O'Corriher, Harold McGee or Hervé This, you'll be aware that adding sugar early in the mixing process inhibits the ability of egg white to become light and fluffy with loads of volume.

If you add sugar at the beginning, you'll end up with the perfect paste to pour into a soup bowl. What you should do instead, is beat the whites until they are aerated enough to form soft peaks and only then begin adding sugar (a little at a time mind you). If you dump it all in at once, the egg whites will collapse. If you add it gradually, the sugar will bind with the whites to create a more stable platform to hold up under the weight of the additional sugar and you'll have a meringue with maximum volume!

At the far end of my garden, a golden passionfruit vine has slowly wound its way up an old stone wall that provides shelter for ferns living on the other side. Using a sprightly young orange tree as leverage, it reaches for the empty sky and basks in sunlight all day long. Late autumn marked the first (ever!) harvest, and even now the vine lays abundant with winter fruit. 

Allowing the season to guide my inspiration, I decided against making a traditional pavlova. Wanting to do something a little more fun, I clambered up the stone wall and reached through the thorns of the orange tree. Waving a spindly stick around like a lunatic, I eventually swatted down about half a dozen ripe golden passionfruit from the creepers that had entwined themselves around the upper branches.

I scooped out the sweet pulp and incorporated most of it into a rich pastry cream, half of which went into the oven to dry into wafer-thin crisps. The other half, I reserved in a piping bag for plating. I made oeufs a la neige in the microwave and mandarin jelly from the juice of freshly squeezed mandarins (straight out of the garden too!). I kept the peel and candied it in a simple syrup with anise, pared a few mandarin segments, cracked open a couple of walnuts and turned the remaining passionfruit pulp into a sharp vinaigrette.

Passionfruit Pastry Cream and Crisps

420 g milk
94 g egg yolk (approx. 5)
85 g castor sugar
32 g potato starch
4 g sea salt (I use Murray River pink salt flakes)
45 g unsalted butter
128 g golden passionfruit pulp
Pour milk into a small pot and bring to the boil. Remove from heat.
Whisk eggs, sugar, potato starch and salt in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
Temper eggs by slowly adding hot milk, whisking continuously.
Pour into pot and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes to thicken, whisking continuously.
Remove from heat and whisk for a few minutes to cool.
Whisk in butter when it cools to below 55ºC but is still quite warm.
Whisk in passionfruit pulp.
Spread half onto baking paper in a thin layer.
Place onto a baking tray and dehydrate at 90ºC for 2 hours or until crisp when cool.
Push remaining pastry cream through a fine sieve.
Keep refrigerated in a piping bag until serving.

Candied Mandarin Peel

25 g mandarin peel
150 g castor sugar
150 g water
1 g sea salt
1 star anise
Cut peel into 2-3 cm wide pieces.
Remove any white pith with a sharp knife.
Blanch 3 times in boiling water to soften.
Place sugar, water, salt and star anise in a small pot and bring to the boil.
Add mandarin peel, reduce heat until barely bubbling.
Cook over low heat until nearly translucent (approx. 30 mins) and the syrup becomes viscous like honey.
Cool and store in syrup in fridge.

Mandarin Jelly

1 gold gelatine leaf
20 g boiling water
150 g freshly-squeezed mandarin juice
Soak gelatine leaf in cold water for a minute to bloom.
Squeeze out excess moisture and dissolve in a bowl with boiling water.
Add mandarin juice and whisk to combine.
Strain and pour into a shallow dish.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.

Oeufs A La Neige

144 g egg white (approx. 5)
175 g castor sugar
2 g vanilla paste
Place everything in a bowl over a bain marie and stir gently until the whites have warmed up slightly and the sugar has dissolved.
Transfer to an electric stand mixer.
Whisk on high speed for 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium-high and whisk for an additional 3 minutes.
Divide into two square plastic containers (takeaway containers work well) and smooth over the top.
Microwave one at a time on medium setting for 90 seconds or until cooked through and puffed like a souffle.
Refrigerate until thoroughly cold.

Passionfruit Vinaigrette
33 g golden passionfruit pulp
5 g extra virgin olive oil (I used Nolans Road - Delicate)
2 g light agave syrup (available in Aus. from Santos Natural Food Store)
2 g apple cider vinegar
Whisk together in a small bowl to break up the passionfruit pulp.

To plate up - pipe passionfruit pastry cream into two parallel lines 3cm apart, running from one end of the plate to the other. Using a 3cm diameter round pastry cutter, cut cylinders out of the cold oeufs a la neige. They should feel firm like marshmallow. Square off the ends and place these along the lines of pastry cream. Place a few mandarin segments around the cream and spoon a little mandarin jelly in-between. Slice a piece of candied mandarin peel into thin strips and drape a few over the mandarin segments. Pop a few small pieces of raw walnut around and spoon over a generous tablespoon or two of passionfruit vinaigrette. Break the dehydrated pastry cream into shards and finish by leaning one up against each vanilla eouf.

Ta da! And that's my passionfruit & mandarin pavlova! It encompasses all of the original tastes and textures - sweet, sour, crisp, crunchy, creamy, soft and smooth, but presented in a different form, I think it takes an old dessert to a new level.

Submitted for Grow Your Own: July 2010 hosted by Kitchen Gadget Girl.


  1. What a beautiful looking plate! Just gorgeous. Microwaving the Oeufs A La Neige is a technique I haven't seen before. A good thing to know. Thanks.

  2. Oeufs a la neige in the microwave, eh? The things you learn from professionals! Looks absolutely sensational =)

  3. you are like, all kinds of awesome.

  4. thanks ladies! :D

    suze: i wish my boyfriend would say that! aha! just kidding! :P

  5. this looks amazing! what a wonderful idea of a deconstructed pavlova! must try as soon as i get settled in my new kitchen and the containers have arrived in singapore!

  6. Beautiful looking dessert, Cathy! Those passionfruit crisps sound especially great. We just bought ourselves a blueberry plant. Fingers crossed we'll get some yield from it eventually :)

  7. oh wow singapore! i can't wait to hear more about it :D

    thanks Y! i think the blueberry will be a perfect plant for you. they love water so it will be near impossible to kill it with kindness :P

  8. Fantastic...this interpretation is absolutely fantastic!!!!

  9. Looks awesome! I love a good pav and this one looks great.


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