Autumn in the Alps is truly a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, as Keats so perfectly described (thanks GCSE English Literature for that one). I’m probably guilty of thinking each season is my favourite when it arrives but with Autumn comes such a wealth of foraging opportunities that it’s got to be one of the best times of the year for food. All around the trees are shedding apples and plums in such vast quantities that it’s an impossible task to try and gather them before they all turn to mush. And the hedgerows are so temptingly full of ripe blackberries that any walk with my daughter Ivy has to be extended by at least half an hour to allow plenty of scrumping time.
I absolutely loathe seeing food go to waste, so feel duty bound to find recipes that will use up some of these wonderful freebies (I know – poor me!) and one of my favourite puddings from last season does the job brilliantly. I adapted the dish from Lorraine Pascale’s lovely recipe for a spiced blackberry, pear and apple pavlova. My main addition was putting chestnut puree in the whipped cream to introduce nuttiness, along with some candied hazelnuts on top to decorate and add crunch. The other tweak I made was to reduce the poaching liquid to a thick glossy syrup– it seemed such a shame to discard it. It coats the fruit beautifully and enhances the flavour from the spices and red wine which I think helps to balance out the sweetness of the meringues.
Reducing the wine fills the chalet with the wonderful smell of vin chaud, making it feel incredibly cosy and welcoming.
Spiced fruit meringues
Make the meringues first as you can then get on with the filling while they are dehydrating in the oven. If you have made meringues before you might think this method seems a bit back to front but I promise you it works like a charm!
- 230g caster sugar
- 8 free range egg whites
- A squeeze lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 120C and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
- Put the sugar into the bowl of your electric mixer (I use a Kenwood) and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Add one egg white and whisk on full speed for a minute. The mixture will look really hard at chunky at this point but don’t worry , that’s how it is supposed to be.
- Add another egg white and whisk for 3 minutes until the sugar has started to blend in to make a sort of paste and then add the remaining egg whites. Whisk on full speed for about 5 minutes or until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
- Dollop the mixture onto the baking tray to make 12 individual pavlovas – make them smaller and taller than you need as they will spread a little. Make a small indent in the middle to hold the fruit and cream and if you feel like it you can use the back of the spoon to tease the meringue into little spikes that will look pretty when cooked.
- Bake in the bottom of the oven for about an hour and a half until the meringue is firm and crisp on the outside but still soft inside. If you can, wedge the oven door open a tiny bit with a damp tea towel; this allows the moisture to escape and dries out your meringue more quickly.
I find the cooking time for these meringues can really vary depending on your oven so do keep an eye on them. You really don’t want too much colour – very pale golden colour is fine, but that is it. If you find them colouring too quickly then turn the heat down – it is better for them to cook longer and slower than for the sugar to have a burnt taste.
Once cooked, turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside until completely cool.
- 4 pears, peeled, cored & sliced
- 3 apples, peeled, cored & sliced
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 pinches black pepper
- 250 ml red wine
- 125ml cointreau/triple sec
- 1 orange, zested & juiced
- 4 tablespoons soft brown sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds removed and saved for the cream
- 4 large handfuls blackberries
- Put all the ingredients, except the blackberries, in a saucepan and place on a medium heat until the liquid comes to the boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fruit is soft, but not mushy. Add the blackberries and remove the pan from the heat, leaving the fruit to cool in the liquid.
- Once cooled, strain the liquid from the fruit into a new saucepan. Set the fruit aside until needed – don’t forget to remove the spices as these will be horribly bitter if you bite them by mistake.
- Bring the liquid back to a gentle simmer and allow it to reduce over a medium heat until it is the consistency of a syrup – it should be thick but still pourable. Set it aside and allow it to cool.
- 500mlDouble/whipping cream
- 2TbspChestnut puree
- Vanilla seeds saved from before
- Whip the cream and vanilla seeds in a large bowl. The cream is whipped enough when it just starts to hold its shape in the bowl and does not run when the bowl is tipped.
- Add the chestnut puree and then continue to whip a little more but don’t over whip as it will thicken on standing. Store covered in fridge until needed.
- 115GHazelnuts, whole
- 1Tbspbutter, in small pieces
- Preheat the oven to 160C and lightly butter a shallow baking pan.
- In a small heavy bottomed saucepan heat the water over a medium heat with 200g of the sugar, (keep the remainder for later), stirring until sugar is dissolved.
- Coarsely chop the hazelnuts. Stir nuts into syrup and simmer them for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon transfer the nuts to the baking pan, arranging them in a single layer.
- Bake the nuts in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Immediately add the butter to the nuts, tossing to coat and separate, and with a spatula transfer nuts to a plate to cool ( they might seem soft but don’t worry as the nuts will crisp as they cool.
Assembling the whole thing…
Fill each meringue with a dessert spoonful of the chestnut cream and then top with the fruit. Drizzle a little syrup so it runs enticingly down the sides of the meringue and then sprinkle over a few of the hazelnuts.