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Joni Woolf: Pavlova (for the Australian within us), and more

Recently I was thinking of desserts I might prepare, and suddenly remembered one called Pavlova. Many years ago, an Australian couple served at the parish I attended in Macon, (he, a priest; she, on her way to becoming one), and spent time in my home. Once while I was planning a party for the neighborhood, she offered to make the dessert. I readily assented, and watched her perform the magic that becomes Pavlova. It has never been served to me anywhere — in someone’s home, or in a restaurant. I have prepared it on rare occasions, and don’t know why I don’t have it once a month. For every time I offer it, it is devoured as if it were food for the gods. Maybe that’s part of the secret; it is served so seldom that its occasional appearance makes it a spectacular dessert. And it is rather spectacular to look at — and enjoy. When I served it two years ago to my brother, sister, and brother-in-law, everyone went back for seconds — which doesn’t happen often with desserts. So I’ll offer it here, along with another favorite of mine, rice pudding — a dish my mother made when we had left-over rice, and eggs were plentiful. This one is a little fancier than those from my childhood. The memory of that one is good, but this pudding, called “The Best Rice Pudding” when it appeared in Country Living magazine some 20 years ago, is, in fact, the best.

Pavlova, a traditional Australian dessert
5 egg whites
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat egg whites in a large bowl with electric mixer until foamy; add sugar slowly and beat until stiff peaks form. In small bowl, mix together vinegar, vanilla and cornstarch until smooth. Pour cornstarch mixture into egg whites and beat until thick and glossy, about 4 minutes. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw an 8-inch circle in the center. Spoon the egg white mixture inside the circle, spreading close to circle edges. Place in pre-heated oven, reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees F. and bake 1 hour. Turn off oven, leave Pavlova in oven to cool overnight (or for several hours).  When ready to serve, beat 1/2 pint whipping cream till stiff. Slightly break the center of the meringue, top with whipped cream, and top that with a variety of sliced fruit. I use bananas, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwi, fresh peaches when in season — whatever fruits suit your personal taste buds. This is a beautiful, delicious dessert, and hard to mess up. Make it soon.

The Best Rice Pudding
1 cup water
1/2 cup short- or medium-grain white rice
1/2 vanilla bean split (when I can’t find this, I use 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark seedless raisins or dried sour cherries
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Boiling water
In a 2-quart saucepan, heat water to boiling. Add rice, vanilla bean, and salt. Cook 10 minutes. Add milk and cook over very low heat until rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter 1 1/2 quart shallow baking dish. In small bowl, combine cream, sugar and eggs; fold into rice mixture along with raisins. Remove vanilla bean and pour rice mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle top evenly with cinnamon.
Place baking dish into a large baking pan in oven. Pour boiling water into baking pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake 30 to 45 minutes or until pudding is firm and top surface is golden brown. Cool to room temperature on wire rack. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate, covered, to serve chilled.

Two uncomplicated desserts that are sure to rank high with friends and family — so try one tonight.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net