RecipeTin Eats x Good Food: How to make a pavlova Christmas tree

This stacked pavlova Christmas tree makes a grand table centrepiece.
This stacked pavlova Christmas tree makes a grand table centrepiece. Photo: William Meppem

This is the grandest of all pavlovas, with the signature delicate crust and marshmallow insides, smothered in cream and berries. It will stand tall and proud for well over an hour.

Don't be intimidated by the number of steps. It's actually quite straightforward. Make the pavlova and coulis up to 24 hours ahead of time and assemble on the day.

INGREDIENTS

This recipe features in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine, out December 6.
This recipe features in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine, out December 6. Photo: William Meppem

Pavlova

  • 170g (⅔ cup) egg whites from 5 large eggs, at room temperature (see tips)
  • 270g (1¼ cups) caster sugar
  • 2½ tsp cornflour
  • 1¼ tsp white vinegar

Raspberry coulis

  • 250g frozen (thawed) or fresh raspberries
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

To build the tree

  • 28cm bamboo skewer – or 2 shorter skewers
  • 400ml thickened cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 10 strawberries, medium, cut into 1.75cm rounds ("strawberry pillars")
  • 12 strawberries cut into 1cm dices (for scattering between layers)
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To decorate the tree

  • 3 rosemary or mint sprigs
  • 125g fresh raspberries
  • icing sugar, for dusting

To serve

  • More strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for serving, or other fruit (see tips)

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 130C fan-forced (150C conventional). Put the oven shelves in the centre and lowest racks.
  2. Take two sheets of baking paper that fit your trays, and, using a pen that shows on the other side of the paper, trace circles around bowls, cookie cutters, scone cutters or glasses as follows:
    Tray 1: 15cm diameter, 12cm, 6.5cm
    Tray 2: 10cm, 8.5cm, 5cm, 4cm
    After drawing the circles, turn the paper over and bake on this side.
  3. To make the meringue, place the egg whites in the very clean bowl of a stand mixer and beat for 1½ minutes on medium-high until soft peaks start to form. Turn speed up to high and sprinkle in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Once the sugar is added, turn down to medium-high and beat until thick and glossy and no sugar grains remain, about 5-6 minutes. Stop the mixer, add the vinegar, then sift in the cornflour. Beat for 30 seconds.
  4. Fit a piping bag with a star tip about 1cm in diameter, and fill with the meringue mixture. Starting at the centre of one of the circles, pipe a tight coil (don't have gaps between the coils), leaving a 1cm border for a decorative edge. Pipe another coil on top of the first (to give it height), then smooth the top. It should be about 1.8cm to 2cm thick (they will spread a little but will not rise). Pipe the remaining circles.
  5. To finish, pipe waves around the edge of the circles, ensuring the meringue stays within the guidelines you drew and the surface is level. Repeat with remaining circles.
  6. Place Tray 1 on the centre shelf and Tray 2 on the lower shelf and immediately reduce heat to 100C fan-forced (120C conventional). Bake for 1 hour or until the base of the largest pav layer is properly cooked – you should be able to pick it up easily without it collapsing.
  7. When cooked, turn the oven off and leave the pavlovas to cool inside for at least 3 hours or until the oven is cold.
  8. To make the raspberry coulis, place the raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 minute, mashing the raspberries. Use a stick blender to puree it smooth. Set aside to fully cool before using – it will thicken.
  9. Whip the cream with the vanilla and 1 tbsp sugar until quite stiff, about 3 minutes.
  10. To assemble, have all decorations prepared before starting. In mild weather, the tree will stand tall for at least 1 hour. But as with all pavs, this is best built just before serving.
  11. Place the largest round on a serving platter and spread with a 1cm-thick layer of cream, right to the edge. Place 4 strawberry pillars around the edge, onto which the next layer will rest. Gently press them into the cream so they rest on the pav surface. Scatter some chopped strawberries in the middle of the pillars – not too many as we do not want to weigh the pav down. Drizzle with raspberry coulis, especially near the edge so it oozes out prettily. Spread with a bit more cream to cover the strawberries – make sure the cream is level. Put a skewer into the centre, sharp end up.
  12. Thread the next largest meringue onto the skewer, spinning back and forth gently to "screw" it through rather than pushing it through. It won't shatter – pav is tougher than you think. Repeat the cream, strawberry pillars, strawberry dice, coulis and cream steps above.
  13. Continue this with layers 3 to 7, finishing with the smallest meringue. You will only need 2 strawberry pillars on the smaller layers, and 1 under the centre of the smallest. If the skewer isn't long enough, thread through another one for the upper part of the tree. With each layer, check that the tree is straight and level. Use strawberries to level up the layers.
  14. To finish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary, and insert raspberries onto the edges between layers (halve if necessary, to fit), using them to level out crooked layers, if needed. Dust with icing sugar and then serve immediately.

Serves 8

TIPS

  • Separate the egg whites while fridge-cold – it's much easier. But beat the whites when they are at room temperature, as they fluff up much better.
  • Measure the egg whites by volume or weight rather than by the number of eggs – every egg contains a different volume of white.
  • Separate the eggs one by one into a separate bowl before adding into the main bowl, so that if you accidentally pierce the yolk, you don't ruin the whole batch.
  • Be sure to not get even a speck of yolk in the egg whites or they won't beat into a stiff foam.
  • I know it's tempting, but avoid piling the berries onto the tree, it will weigh it down. Decorate with the minimum, then serve with extra berries.
  • Salvage it! If you have a pavlova crisis, you have everything you need to turn it into Eton mess.

This recipe features in RecipeTin Eats' festive feast for $20 a head, available in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun Herald and Sunday Age on sale December 6.