The old oven finally passed on. But in true rage against the dying of the light style, tried to take us with it if it could, spewing gas relentlessly out of the burners and eventually having to be shut off at the wall and dragged away in a shower of rust by Caesar and Manny.
And so a new oven arrived, all white and shiny and eager to please. So eager to please in fact that it clicked its pilot light on for no apparent reason intermittently throughout the night.
“It keeps clicking,” I said as Caesar and Manny watched the oven skeptically waiting for something to happen.
A long pause.
“Are you certain?” Manny wondered.
“Yes,” I said. Listen. It’s going to do it. Any second now it’s going to click the pilot light. It’s kinda irritating – I mean, the noise just gets to you …”
“It would,” said Caesar as the oven stayed resolutely silent.
“It clicks.” I said. “It clicked all night. It kept us awake. That’s not right, is it? It’s not supposed to click all the time is it?”
“You mean, clicking like it’s not doing now,” noted Caesar, the comedian of the two.
“It’s going to click. Any moment now.” I insisted. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”
“No. We just came off our break.”
“It’s going to do it.” They both gave me a look.
Caesar sighed. “OK, well, we can put in a request for a new oven, but these things can take some time …”
At which point the oven clicked and turned on the front two burners.
“I’ll get the trolley” said Manny.
“I’ll turn off the gas” said Caesar.
Half an hour later, they came back with a new oven.
Nothing puts an oven through its paces like a pavlova. The differences in individual ovens’ ideas of 250f is so enormous, and the difference that a fan makes, or the position of a shelf makes can be marked. A pavlova is where these individual quirks come to light, and where they can be accommodated.
The first pav is always something of an experiment in timing and especially in temperature (too hot and it’s going to take on a cream shade rather than stark white). But once you know how to make a pav in your oven, it’s one of the easiest and most delicious deserts in existence.
So the first time, make notes. If the pav browns, the heat is too high. Turn it down. Cook it for longer, write down what you did. My old fan oven easily cooked a pav in an hour. My last oven took longer. Also, that oven had strange uneven heat, so my solution was to turn the pav around every 15 mins or so.
If your first pav doesn’t wok out quite the way you’d like, crumble the meringue, stir into whipped cream and fruit and call it Eton mess.
To me, an oven is an oven, but once I’ve made a pavlova, it’s my oven.
Raspberry white chocolate chip pavlova (serves 6)
3 egg whites 6 oz caster sugar A cut lemon 1 punnet of raspberries 1 bar of white chocolate 300 ml heavy cream
- Pre heat the oven to 250f
- Wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk (an electric whisk is a good idea here), then wipe them with the cut side of a lemon to make sure there’s no oil at all (or the eggs won’t whisk up)
- Tip the eggs into the mixing bowl and get whisking. If any egg yolk gets near the whites they won’t mix up, so I break each one into a separate cup so if a bit of yolk catches on one I don’t have to throw the other two out
- Once the egg whites are whisked into stiff peaks (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without them falling out – but don’t over beat them or they’ll fall again) add the sugar 1oz at a time with the beaters running until it’s incorporated
- Draw an 8inch (approx) circle on a piece of baking parchment, then turn it over (so the pencil line never touches the food) and dollup the meringue mixture onto it. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sides
- Put into the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 225 – 235ish F. Leave the meringue for an hour (it should look pretty cooked at this point. If it doesn’t feel hard to the touch, leave it in – and make notes – this is how you learn about your oven’s quirks.)
- Once the meringue feels hard to the touch, turn the heat off and leave it in the oven to dry out – preferably overnight, but for at least a couple of hours
- When you’re ready to serve, invert the pavlova base onto a plate – the bottom, which is slightly squidgy-ier melds with the cream, and makes the whole things extra delicious – also, it’s flat
- Whip the cream and spoon on top – decorate with the raspberries and grate over the white chocolate