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Retro Snowball pavlova with frosted grapes

Serves: 8

Meal type: ,

Prep time: 35 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

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Dessert, Sweet Treats,

About this recipe

The story behind ‘I always put two cocktail cherries in his because he loved them. Probably more than he ever loved me.’ inspired this recipe.

Retro is the spirit of therapy – much as it is of kitsch cocktails (which are also therapeutic, in their own way). At its heart, therapy is all about retro feelings – trying to make sense of those ghosts of feelings past. As a therapist, I often hold in mind Kierkegaard’s famed idea that life must be understood backward, but lived forward. But as a cook I have wondered if that philosophy might be especially true of culinary life. Could a Snowball, a drink that takes us back, somehow be lived forward, as something else? A dessert, in this case. And the answer I found was yes. This is a creamy soft, spoonable version of that special Christmas cocktail. Inspired by my client’s story, this pavlova definitely has more than two cocktail cherries on top. Yet, on reflection I might have, unconsciously, been a little scrooge with my amounts of decoration ingredients; it’s Christmas, so I urge you to go all out – deck that pavlova with as much gold, fruit and nuttage as your heart desires. And true to the most retro of Rowntree’s sweets, the frosted grapes provide sweet and sour fruit pastilley pop, and their appearance brings something of the magic of the Sugar Plum Fairy to the pavlova, as well as some seasonal splendour and hope – which we all need right now.


For the frosted grapes (aka lookalike sugar plums):

  • At least 6 white grapes
  • One sachet of raspberry jelly crystals

For the pavlova:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon custard powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (extract or bean paste)
  • 1 teaspoon lime (or lemon) juice
  • 10g flaked almonds
  • 10g slivered pistachios
  • 1 jar of lemon curd (shop-bought, between 300g-320g, is fine)
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 1 teaspoon icing sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 5 tablespoons advocaat
  • At least 6 cocktail cherries
  • Gold leaf

You will have leftover jelly crystals – ideal for the base of any retro Christmas trifle.

  1. First make the frosted grapes. Wash the grapes, but don’t dry them – they need to be wet for the jelly crystals to stick to them. Tip the sachet of jelly into a small bowl and roll the grapes around until they are fully covered, and their previous paleness is a sparkly magenta. Refrigerate until you are ready to decorate the pavlova.
  2. Preheat the oven to 140C/gas mark 1. Cut a piece of non-stick baking parchment to line a large baking sheet, and set aside.
  3. Whisk the egg whites to shiny stiff peaks, which will take a few minutes using an electric whisk/mixer (a KitchenAid stand mixer makes this an easy task, and also makes a good Christmas gift…).
  4. Once the egg whites reach the stiff peak stage, with the mixer still running, start to add the caster sugar one tablespoon at a time until it’s all in.
  5. Add the custard powder, vanilla and lime juice, and stop the mixer once you see that they are incorporated.
  6. Take a 20cm flat plate (it doesn’t matter if it’s slightly larger but it is important that it doesn’t have a pronounced rimmed lip) and lay the baking parchment over it. Keep the baking sheet next to you.
  7. Pile the meringue mix into a mound on top of the parchment covered plate – the plate provides an easy and helpful template for the pavlova shape. With this as a guide, use the back of a metal spoon or a spatula to spread and smooth the top and sides evenly into a circle. Use the back of a spoon to create a slight dip in the centre, which will help house the curd and cream later. Then gently lift the parchment with the meringue onto the baking sheet.
  8. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, but check it after an hour – the meringue is ready when the shell is firm to the touch. Turn the oven off, open the door so it’s ajar and leave the meringue inside to cool.
  9. Sprinkle the almonds and pistachios evenly into dry pan and place over medium-high heat for one minute – keep an eye on them and jiggle/jingle the pan regularly. As soon as you see a fleck of golden colour on the nuts, shake them out onto a plate – a plate that has been chilled in the fridge is ideal, as it will stop any further toasting.
  10. Scoop the lemon curd into a small bowl and stir in the lime juice and zest.
  11. Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl and pour over the cream. Whisk until it is thick and soft, and just holding its shape. Fold in the advocaat using a large metal spoon – be gentle and stop when you no longer see ribbons of egg yolk yellowness.
  12. Place the meringue onto a serving plate and spread the limey-lemon curd on top. Dollop the advocaat cream over that and smooth gently to create a whippy layer. Festoon festively with the almonds, pistachios, cocktail cherries, frosted grapes, and if you have the patience of a Christmas saint, flecks of gold leaf.

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