Thursday, 24 November 2011

P is for... Peach pannacotta with pomegranate and Prosecco jelly, passion fruit and pomegranate pavlova with pomegranate coulis and pistachios

peach pannacotta, pomegranate and Prosecco jelly, passion fruit and pomegranate 
pavlova with pomegranate coulis and pistachios

Pavlova is always my fallback pudding of choice. When I want to make something quick and easy that looks beautiful bunged in the middle of the table, like a billowing snowy cloud topped with fruit, it's to pavlova I turn. It also has the wonderful added bonus of being gluten free, so you can dish it up to gluten dodgers and wheat lovers alike, without having to make the slightest compromise on taste. Another plus in a pavlova's favour is that people tend to think you're a culinary genius because you've whisked up some egg whites. As for pannacotta, it's another really simple pudding with a little element of danger - namely, whether or not it decides to set. You only want to put in just enough gelatine to make it set, without turning it into blancmange. Then there's the unmoulding of the pudding on to the plates. Not difficult in itself, but enough to turn some otherwise calm and collected types into shaking nervous wrecks. I've been served pannacotta in Italy that hasn't been fancily unmoulded into a pretty dome shape at all, it's just been served in the glass it was set in, which is definitely worth bearing in mind to ease the pressure.

Passion fruit and pomegranate pavlovas

Serves 8 

I always think imperially when making pavlovas, largely because I never bother with scales when making one. In fact, this is a great pudding to make for those who don't own weighing scales, but do have a tablespoon rattling round in their cutlery drawer. One slightly heaped tablespoon of sugar equates to roughly one ounce and you need double the number of ounces to the number of egg whites used. So, that's 6oz for 3 egg whites or 12oz for 6 egg whites, etc, etc. I know puritans often bang on about the scientific necessity for absolute accuracy in baking, but trust me on this one, I bake for a living. I have managed to make a whole wedding cake to feed 100 greedy guests with only a tablespoon as a measuring tool, working in a friend's shockingly under-equipped holiday rental kitchen, so a little meringue isn't going to be beat me. And, if you follow these simple instructions, nor shall it beat you.  If you're frightened of getting distracted and losing count, you can always count out the right number of spoonfuls into a bowl beforehand, but I like to live a little dangerously and plonk them straight in. Go on, don't be scared, show this pavlova who's boss.

3 large egg whites (you can save the yolks and make a delicious custard later)
6 slightly heaped tbsp caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar (it doesn't have to be white wine, that's just for clarity of colour, but I've been known to use malt vinegar before and it's worked out just fine. Just don't use balsamic)
A splash of vanilla extract (optional - it's just for flavour)
1 330ml tub of double or whipping cream
The juice of 4 passion fruits
3 pomegranates

Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff (if you have an electric hand whisk, save your arms and use it). Gradually whisk in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until your meringue is beautifully glossy. Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk in - these two ingredients are responsible for creating the deliciously marshmallowy inside beneath the crisp, chewy crust. Lastly, whisk in the vanilla if you want to.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan)

At this stage, you can bung the meringue into a large piping bag fitted with a plain or star nozzle, but two spoons will also do just fine. Create individual mounds on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure you leave a couple of inches either side of each pavlova to allow for any spreading. Next, make a little dip in the top of each to make room for the cream and fruit topping later. Pop the tray/s in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140°C (120°C fan). Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once baked, turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly and leave the pavlovas to cool inside. Once cold, peel the pavlovas off the paper and place them on serving plates. Whip the cream until billowing and whisk in the passion fruit juice. Top each pavlova with a generous blob of passion fruit cream and top with pomegranate seeds. There's no need to pick them out with a pin, just turn them upside down and bash them over a bowl with a wooden spoon and the seeds will fly out.

Peach pannacotta with pistachios

Serves 8

6 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for about ten minutes
600ml/ 1 pint and 1 fl.oz double cream
150ml/ 5 fl.oz milk
250ml/ 9 fl.oz peach purée (I couldn't get hold of peaches, so I bought a pouch)
50g/ 2oz caster sugar
100g/ 4oz shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly smashed up in a pestle and mortar

Place the cream, milk, peach purée and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a simmer. Take the pan off the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine and add to the pan. Stir until all the gelatine has dissolved and divide the mixture between 8 ramekins or custard pots and leave to cool. Once cold, place them in the fridge for at least an hour to set. To unmould, quickly submerge the base of the ramekin in a shallow bowl of hot water, wipe and turn upside down on a plate. The pannacotta should slide out and keep its shape. Repeat with the rest of the puddings and sprinkle their tops with crushed pistachio nuts.

Pomegranate and Prosecco jelly

125ml/ 4.5 fl.oz pomegranate juice
25g/ 1oz caster sugar
125ml/ 4.5 fl.oz Prosecco 
The seeds of 1 pomegranate
4 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for about 10 minutes

Line a square dish or tray with cling film. Stir the sugar into the pomegranate juice in a saucepan over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in the gelatine after squeezing off any excess water. Pour in the Prosecco and tip out into your prepared tray. Scatter the jelly with pomegranate seeds and once completely cool, pop the tray in the fridge to set for about an hour. Once set, slice the jelly into little squares to serve with your pudding.

Pomegranate coulis

500ml pomegranate juice
200g/ 8oz caster sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice

Pop the lot in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and leave to simmer until the coulis has thickened slightly. Leave to cool, then pop in the fridge.

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