Chocolate Cherry Pavlova

Baked meringue provides a light and crispy bed for pillowy, almond-scented whipped cream, fresh cherries, and a shower of chocolate shavings.  A heavenly treat for summer!

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

That 16-hour plane ride to Sydney surely gives you a lot of time to build up expectations.  Thankfully, the trip did not disappoint – even in July (their winter). 

After I graduated from university, my family and I went way down under.  A trip to Australia!  How freakin' amazing is that?!?!?  I honestly didn’t know what to really except.  Would it be like cities in America or parts of Great Brittan but with a different accent?  Is it more tropical island-like with its many beaches and abundant wild life?  And why did we come during our summer – would it rain the entire time?  The trip was a decade ago this summer, so please forgive any lapses in my memory or ignorant generalisations. 

The best way I can describe the experience was that is was similar to going to a clean, modern, English-speaking country in Europe, where everything feels almost the same as home but then you turn the corner and see a peculiar food item or hear an unfamiliar phrase in an accent that is not your own.  Kind of like living in Vancouver and it feeling almost like any other major city in the US, until you spot the colourful Monopoly money or a bag of ketchup chips while hearing someone say "decal" instead of sticker, but pronouncing it de-kel instead of di-kal.  In fact, Vancouver reminds me of a mixture of Melbourne’s cosmopolitan city life and the scenic, waterfront of Sydney.  Both have similar climates, modern glass high-rises, and friendly locals, too!

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.
Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.
Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

I wish I could say that I saw a koala bear or a kangaroo in the wild, but most of our time was spent in the cites of Sydney and Melbourne.  Some of the highlights include: climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, taking a harbour boat tour, standing in awe in front of the opera house, attending a rugby match then running for the train after (as we learned that when the first train fills up, it may take forever until another arrives), hitting up the Lindt Chocolate Café, Bondi Beach (I snapped an awesome pic that was the desktop photo on my old computer for years!), the river walk in Melbourne, and more.  I know I didn’t even scratch the surface and mostly indulged in touristy things, but it was truly an amazing trip in a gorgeous country.  I’d go back any day – despite the longest plane ride ever (although I have to say that those Melona popsicle Kiwanis gives out mid-flight is a nice touch).

Food wise, I remember eating passion fruit EVERYTHING with reckless abandon.  Judging from this cake and these popsicles, you can probably tell that I have a thing for tangy passion fruit.  I recall going to a market for breakfast that was kind of like a fancy food court and ordering yogurt covered in fresh passion fruit pulp and my first ever flat whites daily.  

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

One of my favorite Aussie foods that I still enjoy baking today is the pavlova.  Some say it originated in New Zealand while other claim Australia.  All I know is that it is down right delicious.  The light and crisp meringue shell, sweetened whipped cream, and fresh, seasonal fruit – what is there not to love? When the cooler months have us craving more comforting treats laden with caramel sauce or decadent ganache, summer calls for something on the lighter side.  This recipe in particular calls for flecks of real vanilla bean, almond cream, fresh cherries, and a shower of chocolate shavings, but feel free to change up the flavor of the cream and use your favorite fruit.  There really is no reason why we shouldn’t be making these pillows of glory goodness all summer long!  Head on over to the West Elm Blog for the recipe.

Surely I am not giving Australian or its cuisine much justice.  How much can you really learn and appreciate about a culture in such a short amount of time?  Two of my favorite dessert bloggers just happen to hail from Australia.  I strongly urge you all to go check out Sarah’s The Sugar Hit blog and Thalia’s Butter and Brioche blog. And please forgive me ladies for not doing anything remotely “cool” while I was there.  Next time, will you please show me around? 

 

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

Matcha Raspberry French Macarons

Classic French macarons are given a modern twist with the addition of matcha.  Matcha (green tea) ganache and sweet raspberry fill the centers of these delicate pastries.

Matcha Raspberry Macarons

I distinctly remember the period in my career in where I went out on a quest to perfect French macarons.  I even remember the very weekend I devoted to making these finicky, fussy little treats.  It was probably about 4 to 5 years ago and my husband, Brett, was out of town for a few days.  I rarely ever had/have weekends to myself, but when I do, I like to plan little projects for myself.  By the time he got home, I was determined to master these suckers.

Dozens of egg whites and probably about $50 worth of almond flour later - I was nowhere close to where I wanted to be....

Raspberry Macarons

Like most things, I definitely learned that you can't master a skill in 48 hours.  Sure I made things that resembled macarons and I definitely got the filling down, but it has taken me many years and several different recipes in order to produce the kind of macaron I love to eat and enjoy.  A thin, crisp outer shell with a pillowy, chewy center - french macarons are not impossible to make.  Sometimes difficult and frustering?  Yes.  Worth the effort?  Most definitely!!!

I've tried both the French meringue method and the Italian meringue method.  And while "French" is even in the title, I think the turning point for me was when I switched to using Italian meringue.  In this case, you make an Italian meringue (boiled sugar and water mixed into whipped egg whites) then combine it with the almond/confectioner's sugar mixture.  I find that Italian meringue it much more stable, easier to mix without getting soupy, and way less difficult to over-whip (in defence of French meringue, I think I was over-whipping the egg whites making them dry and extra difficult to combine with the almond mixture).  

Raspberry Macarons
Matcha Raspberry Macarons
Raspberry Macarons
Matcha Raspberry Macarons

Upon moving to Vancouver, I worked about a 4 to 5 month stint at a local pastry shop.  They primarily specialized in macarons.  I had definitely made my fair share of macarons before working there, and after months of doing macaron production I was officially burnt out.  French macarons used to be my most beloved desserts.  They take time and patience to make (yourself) and may be difficult to find (really good one, at least).  At first, I was so spoiled by delicious macarons surrounding me, but they quickly started to lose their luster and that deeply saddened me.  I needed a break so that I could fall back in love with these precious little gems.

It had been about two years since I made macarons when I was suddenly inspired to try them out again.  Really, I wanted to see if I "still got it" and give my muscles a reminder on how to mix them properly.  So, over the weekend, I made my first batch of French macarons in a two years.  I went with pretty pastel pink shells with Raspberry Buttercream as well as Matcha Ganache with Raspberry Jam for filling.

Matcha Raspberry Macarons

Here are some of my thoughts on mixing macaron batter or "macaronage" (what most would consider the "tricky" part - me included):

In my humble option, using an Italian meringue makes this mixing process much easier.  I feel like I have much more control over everything.  Like when folding other ingredients of vastly different weights, I like to add the meringue in batches – usually in two or three batches.  As you go, the dry almond mixture slowly starts to incorporate with the thick, pasty meringue.  You don't want to vigorously mix these two ingredients together (although at first it might seem impossible that they will ever combine), but rather deliberately fold them together.  Since over-mixing is a major thing you want to avoid, try to make every fold count by scooping up from the very bottom of the bowl and folding it over on itself.  Continue adding in the meringue and rotating the bowl as you go.  

When properly mixed, the batter should run slowly like thick ribbons of lava.  Again, do not over-mix!  Over-mixing leads to major spreading, so be careful.  However, under-mixed macarons can be an issue too.  When piped, under-mixed macarons may keep too much of their shape - with peaks and not the smooth, flat tops that make macrons so mesmerizing.  If you are unsure about your mixing technique, try testing it as you go.  If you "plop" a bit of the batter back into the bowl, a properly mixed batter should blend back into itself within about 5 seconds.  Likewise, if you drag a spatula through the center of the bowl (full of batter), it should blend back together.
 

For even more macaron tips and tricks, check out Brave Tart.

Matcha Raspberry French Macarons
200 g almond flour
200 g icing sugar
140 g egg whites (4 large eggs)
200 g granulated sugar
50 g water
2 to 3 drops red gel food coloring

Since it had been such a long time since I tried my hand at making macarons, I wanted to go with a really trust worthy recipe.  I wasn't all that confident with some of my past recipes, so I went with this amazing one from Chef Natalie Eng (her work is phenomenal!  you should all check it out).

I followed her recipe exactly with amazing results.  For only one color of shells, add your gel food coloring straight into the Italian meringue during the last minute of mixing.

Depending on the size of your shells, they will take about 9 to 12 minutes to bake at 325 degrees.  When done, the tops of the shells should just barely "jiggle" but still stay connected to the "feet."  After about cooling just a few minutes, a done macaron should easily peel off a piece of parchment or silpat.

Matcha Ganache
7 ounce white chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon matcha powder
6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspooons unsalted butter, diced

1.  Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-safe bowl.  Sprinkle with matcha and set aside.
2.  Gently heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it just begins to simmer.
3.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 30 seconds.
4.  Add the butter and whisk until smooth.
5.  Let ganache cool until thick and "pipe-able."

Raspberry Buttercream
mix about 1/4 cup raspberry jam/jelly with 1 cup Swiss meringue buttercream (or buttercream of choice - adjust raspberry jam to taste) until smooth.  You can find my favorite recipe in this post.

Assembly
After the shells cool, pair them up according to size.  Line the pairs up on a baking tray or clean work surface - one side up, one side down.  

For the raspberry buttercream filling, pipe a large dollop of filling onto the center of the upside down shells.  Leave a bit of room around the edges for the filling to spread after they are sandwiched together.  Top the macarons with the top shells and gently sandwich together until the filling comes to the edges.

For the matcha raspberry macarons, fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the ganache.  Pipe rings on top of the upside down shells - again, living a bit of space for spread.  Fill the center of the rings with raspberry jam/jelly then gently sandwich together.

It's recommend that to let macaron "mature" in the refrigerator for about 24 hours, but I usually can't wait.  Enjoy at your own leisure =) 

NOTE:  Next time I will pulse the almond flour and icing sugar in the food processor a bit before starting.  My shells were a bit too "bumpy."