Janine Kennedy, our Canadian expat chef, shares her tips and recipes for classic Irish recipes along with stories of her life in Ireland. Last time it was Traditional Irish Brown Bread, and today she's serving up a popular Irish dessert, strawberry pavlova. Her stunning Irish Pavlova recipe features sweet and aromatic strawberries.
I’m a Cape Breton girl, through and through. If I hear a fiddle, my foot automatically taps (okay, stomps) in time to the music. I like rum (if only it liked me). I love lobster and the outdoors. I can swear in Gaelic like a champ. I love a good story (it needs to have an element of truth, but overall truthfulness is not important), and I love where I come from — the winding river I grew up swimming in, the fields where we would make hay every summer, the looming highlands. I love the tiny, miniscule, seemingly unimportant but oh-so-unique slice of Canada where I come from.
But can I also just say: I love living on our farm in Ireland.
It’s a weird place to find yourself in, when you have two places you call home.
My present and future are here, on this dusty little farm in Tipperary, surrounded by lush green fields and cows — so many cows — with my husband and kids.
My past, my unbelievably happy childhood, and the people who shaped who I now am, is in Cape Breton.
These two places are always going to be vying for my attention. Sometimes Cape Breton wins and sometimes Ireland, but I could never forsake either at this stage.
Lately, Ireland has been winning. Mostly because we have a season here that doesn’t really exist in Cape Breton: springtime!
While my relatives still battle the odd snowstorm and washed-out roads, we’ve been enjoying the first heatwaves of summer. My first planting of spinach and lettuce is ready to harvest, my flowers are blossoming (it’s peony time!), and our cow babies are all born — some are even weaned.
But the best thing about this time of year? As they like to say around these parts, “There’s a grand stretch in the evening.” After a long day of rearing children and cows, working our regular jobs and our farm jobs, we can sit out on our deck and listen to the birds sing, cups of tea in hand.
It’s also the beginning of strawberry season, my absolute favourite Irish fruit season (spoiler alert: I tend to say this about every Irish fruit season).
Irish strawberries are sweet and aromatic. They aren’t too big or too little. At this time of year you can buy them in the supermarket, sure, but the best places to buy them are on the side of the road.
Every year, small farm stands will pop up around my part of Ireland, selling what are known as Wexford strawberries and new potatoes. Wexford is a neighbouring county, and it’s where the best strawberries are grown. I often stop the car if I see one of these little kiosks to stock up on strawberries (until the ones in my garden make their appearance, anyway).
During strawberry season we eat as many seasonally-appropriate desserts as possible (why wouldn’t we?). The most popular include Victoria Sponge Cake, “Bakewell” Buns (pie crust bottoms, jammy middles and sponge topped muffins — they’re addictive!), custard tarts and strawberry-rhubarb crumbles. Another firm favourite is a massive, messy, creamy pavlova.
I’m not sure how pavlova, a New Zealand (or arguably Australian) dessert, came to be so popular in Ireland, but if we’re out for a family dinner and pavlova is on the menu? Everybody will be getting dessert. The Irish just love pavlova.
The perfect pavlova has a meringue base that’s crisp on the outside and mallowy on the inside. The meringue should be sweet, but not too sweet. It should be topped with softly whipped cream and garnished with massive amounts of fruit.
Tips for Making Meringue
Meringue is surprisingly easy to make, considering so many people claim to have trouble with it. Like anything, if something makes you nervous, you’re probably going to make a mistake somewhere. Confidence is key! Here are a few tips to make the perfect pavlova base:
- Measure out the egg whites instead of going by the amount of eggs (so, instead of using “4 egg whites,” actually measure out 150 ml of egg whites, since eggs are all different sizes).
- If there’s any fat in your meringue, you’re out of luck. Wipe your mixing bowl and utensils clean before adding any ingredients (I wipe the inside of my mixing bowl with half a lemon). Don’t let even the smallest bit of egg yolk mix in with the whites. If this happens, make yourself an omelette and start over.
- It takes a long time to achieve a glossy meringue, at least in my experience. Don’t expect magic to happen all at once. Go easy on yourself and use a stand mixer (or at least a hand mixer) and add your sugar in tiny bits at a time. After about ten minutes you’ll have a lovely, glossy meringue.
- Low and slow is the best way to bake a meringue, at least 120°C (250°F) or even lower, down to 100°C (210°F), depending on how much time you have. Once the meringue is in the oven, don’t open the door. Not even once. After about two hours, turn off the oven and let the meringue cool completely before opening the door (yup, this process will take hours, but it’s worth it!).
- If your meringue is finished baking and cooling and feels sticky on the outside, just turn the oven on a low heat (110°C or less, or 230°F or less) and bake for another hour, then allow to cool completely in the oven again. If your meringue comes out brown, the heat was too high and you’ll know better next time (it will still taste fine).
- While many recipes call for a mixture of caster sugar and cornstarch, I just use icing sugar and omit the cornstarch; icing sugar already contains cornstarch. Just substitute the exact same amount of caster sugar for icing sugar.
Did I mention that this pavlova makes the perfect Canada 150 dessert? It tastes great and looks patriotic with minimal effort. The meringue will keep for a few days if it’s kept in an airtight case, so you can prepare that bit when you have time and top it with boozy cream (I use Coole Swan Irish Cream, but Bailey’s or Kahlua is good, too), fresh strawberries and flaky milk chocolate when you’re just about to serve.
- 150ml egg whites (about 4 large eggs' worth), at room temperature
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- ½ lemon, for wiping the bowl (and acts as a stabilizer for the egg whites)
- 1 cup icing/confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
- ¼ cup Coole Swan Irish Cream (or Bailey’s, Kahlua – any cream-based liqueur)
- 1 tsp good quality vanilla, or one vanilla bean, scraped
- 2 tbsp icing/confectioner’s sugar
- 1 pint fresh strawberries (half halved and any smaller berries kept whole)
- Good quality milk chocolate (I used a Flake chocolate bar here in Ireland, but you can roughly chop your favourite milk chocolate)
- Fresh mint, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 140°C (280°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
- Take the half lemon and generously wipe your stand mixer bowl (if you’re using a hand mixer, using a stainless steel bowl is best here). Leave the lemon residue on the bowl as the acid will help stabilize your meringue.
- Add the room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl and fit your stand/hand mixer with the whisk attachment. Put the confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl with a spoon and keep next to the area where you will be working.
- Start mixing the egg whites/cream of tartar on medium-high until soft peaks begin to form. Then, slowly, add a heaping spoonful of confectioner’s sugar at a time while whisking. When all the confectioner’s sugar is added to the egg white mixture, increase the mixer to high speed and whisk until the egg whites are glossy, thick and forming very stiff peaks (this can take anywhere from 6–10 minutes; if you’re unsure, just keep mixing for 10 minutes).
- When the meringue is ready, dollop the whole mess onto the prepared baking sheet and form (as neatly or rustically as you like!) into a rough circle with high sides and a fairly large cavity in the middle. You can pipe the meringue if you want it to look neat. I like the easy, rustic look!
- Place the baking sheet directly on the centre rack in the preheated oven. Close the door and immediately turn down the oven to 110°C (230°F).
- Bake the meringue for two hours, and then turn off the oven without opening the door. Allow the meringue to cool completely (up to two hours or more) before even opening the oven door.
- Prepare the boozy cream: in the bowl of your stand mixer, add the heavy cream, Irish cream and vanilla. Whisk until the cream starts to thicken, then add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue whisking until medium-soft peaks form (you want them to hold their shape but you don’t want the cream too stiff).
- Dollop the cream into the cavity of the cooled meringue, then arrange the strawberries, chocolate and mint over the top. Once the toppings are added to the meringue, you will want to serve it as soon as possible. The meringue on its own will keep in an airtight container for 2–3 days.
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Celebrating Strawberry Season in Ireland: Irish Pavlova was written by Janine Kennedy. Janine describes herself as Irish by marriage, Canadian by birth, and Cape Bretoner by divine provenance. She shares her recipes and stories as a Canadian chef living in Ireland on her blog, Cooking with Craic. You can connect with Janine on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.