More than anything I’m a summer’s child. Having been born in summer might have something to do with it, or the fact that summer has always been – and still is – the most joyful period of the year for me. But alas, all things come to an end. The good ones seem to end even faster and all of a sudden I can feel the days are starting to change. I can feel the longer shadows and chiller nights of late August, then September. I can feel the sun rays getting weaker with every passing day and before long autumn has arrived, making piles of dry leaves at the doorstep.
For me, everything about autumn is melancholic. It begins mildly so that we can still feel the warm touch of the sun on our skin, leaving us with a deceitful feeling that the warm summer days are not over. But as the days go by and we go deeper into the season, the sun’s rays get weaker with every passing day and the inevitable dark hours are setting upon us. A silent announcement of the end of warmth, a call to prepare for winter’s slow but steady arrival. Nevertheless, autumn is a magical season, a sort of a melancholic spring. Colourful like spring, only there are no pastels or greens but fiery orange, red and browns, an explosion of colours just before the cold leaves behind a barren land.
Autumn comes with it’s own earthy flavours. Summer berries make place for warm apple pies, refreshing salads are replaced with pumpkin soups, chestnuts and mushrooms. And as much as you will agree there is nothing better than a piece of warm apple pie with a cup of coffee and a good book on a dreary autumn evening, there are desserts we forget, leaving them behind together with those short warm months.
A delicate and airy meringue-based dessert – pavlova – is one of favourite spring and summer treats. But come autumn, pavlovas tend to be forgotten. Unjust I shall say, because the sweet chocolate meringue paired with the right seasonal ingredients such as poached pears can well be a soothing autumn dessert. Tonka bean in both the chantilly and the chocolate sauce will add a lovely earthy flavour, so we will not forget we have already stepped deep into autumn.
Chocolate pavlova with chantilly, poached pears and chocolate tonka sauce
For the Pavlova
4 egg whites
3 tbsp cacao
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
50g dark chocolate, finely chopped
For the whipped cream
200mL heavy cream (min 30%)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tonka bean
For the poached pears
4 pears (bosc or some smaller sort), firm but ripe
1L water for boiling
For the chocolate sauce
50g dark chocolate
4 tbsp milk or heavy cream
2 tbsp water
1/2 tonka bean
Preheat the oven to 120 °C. Line the baking tray with the parchment paper. Draw a circle of 20 cm in diameter on the parchment paper with a pencil (have in mind pavlova always spreads during baking).
Whisk the egg whites until they start to form soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually into the egg whites whisking continuously until the peaks become stiff and shiny. Add the vinegar and fold in the chocolate using a spatula. Sift the cacao powder and fold it in the mixture.
Put half of the mixture in the middle of the drawn circle spreading it outwards evenly. Add the remaining mixture on the top of the first layer and spread again, leaving a slightly concave surface. Bake in the oven for around 75 minutes, until the meringue is cracked on the sides. Turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside with the doors of the oven ajar until completely cooled.
Whip the cream with sugar until light and fluffy. Grate a little less than half of the tonka bean to the whipped cream and blend in with a spatula (as tonka bean has a strong flavour we are adding only half a bean in the cream and the other half to the chocolate sauce but feel free to add more if you want). Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before assembling the cake.
Peel the pears leaving the stalk. Put the sugar in a large saucepan. Once peeled, place the pears in the saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes until soft (the exact time will depend on the ripeness of your pears). Let them cool completely in the poaching liquid. You can also refrigerate them and keep them in the liquid for a few days.
Melt the chocolate together with milk. Add two tablespoons of water and mix well. Grate half of the tonka bean to the chocolate.
Putting the cake together
When the meringue is completely cooled, detach it carefully from the parchment paper with a help of a large knife and it place on a plate or a cake stand. Spread the whipped cream over the surface of the meringue and sprinkle with some grated tonka beans. Take the pears out of the poaching liquid and dry them on a paper towel. Place the pears carefully in the middle of the meringue. The meringue is pretty crispy and it may crack under the weight of the pears so be careful when placing them. Pour the warm chocolate sauce over the pears and serve immediately.