Coffee pav a perfect comfort food

Most rational thinkers would agree that the only time a man should ever try to make a coffee pavlova is when his wife is in Christchurch stuck in heavy snow.

For reasons known only to herself, my wife refused to ease the Toyota down steep black-iced hills and through deep snowdrifts last week so she could return to Dunedin where I was waiting wanly at the gate with anxious eyes. "It is far wiser I stay in bed and read," she said on the phone, her words barely audible above a background clink of wine bottles and excited chatter. "I may be another three or four days." Desolation and dark despair swept over me like desolation and dark despair. Only coffee pavlova, incontrovertibly the finest food ever created, could save me.

The recipe is simple enough, though not all Google chefs feel cream of tartar is necessary. I however did, though I did have to ask someone in the supermarket where it was. Call me old-fashioned, but cream is cream, and why it turned out to be in a small packet amidst herbs and spices and not in a bottle by the bottles of cream is, I guess, just one of the mysteries of advanced cooking.

The guts of a pav is caster sugar and egg whites, a staggering 450g of the former. You don't realise how much sugar is in a pav until you actually pour the recommended amount into a blender. Three egg timers run dry while you do this, that's how much. And I am diabetic.

I wasted a few eggs getting four whites; quite a few actually. Luckily my son wandered through the kitchen as I was fruitlessly waggling a teaspoon through a crude hole in the eggshell wall and showed me the separation technique. So I whanged everything into the blender bowl and set the blade whirring. Yes, the blade.

The cutting thing. Either we don't have a beater whisk thing or I couldn't find it. I rang Christchurch but nobody answered.

The whirring to thickness with prominent peaks was meant to take 15 minutes. After an hour, and a number of tests poking a chopstick down the protruding tunnel thing, the liquid was still runny, the noise sounded like a motor mower devouring scrap metal, and there was a stench of burning so powerful it made my son hurtle from the other end of the house.

Turns out I had introduced the caster sugar desperately fast and the sticky result had welded the blade thing to the spindle thing so firmly it had ceased to turn. But, with the speed switch on high, the blade had tried to burrow its way down through the base to freedom and had bent the spindle thing into a The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I would have to handbeat. So I did this for an eternity, nearly winding my right arm off at the shoulder, before slurping the exhausted goo on to a buttered tray and putting it into an oven which had been pre-heating all afternoon.

I had an hour now to clean up the mess. Coffee pavlova glop was everywhere. How could wild, threshing handbeating by a man almost suicidal with rage and frustration put so much solution on to the wall, the electric kettle, the toaster, the cupboard doors, my shoes, my jeans, my Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick T-shirt - and I wasn't thick as a brick, I was just having some bad luck - and most of my face?

I mean, how do you handbeat?

The coffee pav turned out OK, but even a rhesus monkey could produce genuine Michelin tucker from coffee meringue and whipped cream. I put the rooted blender away.

My wife will assume she wrecked it the next time she makes vegetable soup, and I will sympathetically put my arm around her shoulders and say, "Sweetie, let's go to Briscoes; I think they have a sale. Everything will be fine."

Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.


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