Djamo and I were fortunate to share our joint birthday with people we love, and in a place we love: the Efteling. To enter that kingdom’s enchanted realm and escape into its world of fairytale forests, carousels and fables of old, has become a ritual we honour at least once every year. Somehow, upon my first visit, I became increasingly aware that it seemed almost a lifetime ago since I truly felt such overwhelming excitement. The sheer ecstasy of laughter, beauty, and imagination around every corner brought alive emotions I had nearly forgotten. In this magical part of the Netherlands, I felt like a child again, blessed with wide eyes, uncontrollable smiles and a singular ability to cover oneself in confectionary sugar. My family showed their approval with consenting nods.
This year, our little nephew, Babel, joined us through the whimsical labyrinth of fairytales and folklore. Although he was asleep for most of our journey, overall enthusiasm and spirits were not diminished as we made our way past many poetic scenes. Every year, I seem to find a new story to appreciate and draw inspiration from. This visit, the emotional story of the Little Match Girl strung cords within me, as did the melodious call of the Chinese Nightingale. Even more striking was Snow White’s raven black hair adorned with white flowers, as she laid in gentle slumber in her glass coffin in a dark, cool cave surrounded by dwarves who did not have the heart to bury her. By the end of the fairytale forest, we found that we had effortlessly spent four hours admiring the craftsmanship and hard work that was committed to bring the fables of childhood to life. Although he was too young to appreciate this, I am sure one day, our little Babel will be awed and equally as passionate about them as we are and I cannot wait to take him again.
Outside of the fairytale forest, there are many attractions to visit. One of the simpler virtues in an Efteling-day, for instance, is feeding Holle Bolle Gijs paper napkins and other bits of waste, if just to hear him call Thank You. Other ‘traditional’ rides my family love to go on during each visit are the Vogelroc (Bird Roc), Monsieur Cannibale (Mr. Cannibal) and the Villa Volta. Beyond that eery mansion, where only a soul as innocent as a new born baby can lift the curse that was placed on a tarnished spirit, lays de Droomvlucht (the dream flight): a fantasia that will gently drift you across the stars and into secluded glades to observe the faire-folk wistfully playing and swinging on flower clad swings, enjoying the harmony and tranquility of their magical realm. Having saved the best for last, we ended the day by visiting the Fata Morgana, a ride set in the wondrous world of the 1001 nights. There, the stories of my childhood played out before me, they surrounded me, in this atmospheric water ride, never ceasing to entrap my imagination. It began in the shadowy shrubbery of an oasis, with the mirage of a romanticised Arabian city in the far distance. As I entered its gates, the city revealed its inner secrets to me as I floated through the market place, the harbour and even into the palace, where bellydancers, Jinns and hoards of treasure captivated wandering eyes. All senses are teased. I began to feel like Ali Baba, while I made my way through a cave of wonder that was created so artfully that I sometimes imagine even Queen Scheherazade, the legendary story-teller, would approve. Perhaps, the real reason why I adore this park so intensely is that it might just resemble a physical form of the world I had often dreamed about as a child; a world that one may only find somewhere in a Wardrobe, or maybe behind a secret door in a house left to ruin. A world that I had locked away, deep in my psyche, partly lost, overwhelmed by a sea of memories and towers of papers and reports.
In hindsight, it seems rather fitting to have ended that delightful day with this particular ride, as next week, Djamo and I will journey to Marrakech for the first time; an adventure we have been eagerly anticipating for months. But, now, on to the pavlova.
Crispy and marshmallow-like, I associate this delicate, fragile dessert with summer. Particularly with June, as strawberries are in season then. However, with being in the middle of winter and the onset of snow, I really wanted to capture the essence of this season; the bare trees, the dark ash left over in the fireplace, snowy blizzards. Djamo’s favourite fruit happens to be pears, a fragrant fruit still in season thanks to those who are able to store and preserve them. Therefore, I thought it would be a wonderful gesture, on my part, to make a birthday-pavlova, encompassing some of the flavours he loves, as a little gift.
Just a side note, although the recipes I deem suitable for this blog, are rather slow and are not always easy or straightforward, each component of the recipe can be made a day or two before and then just constructed on the day.
Poached Pears in a spiced white wine syrup
Makes: 4-6 servings
Cooking time: 1 hour
Even though I use them as a topping for this particular pavlova, these pears are beautiful as a dessert on their own with the syrup and a tablespoon of mascarpone on the side. If stored in an airtight container in a cool place, the syrup could last up to a year.
4-6 pears, skinned
750ml white wine
200g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon, grounded
1 tsp vanilla extract
First, peel the pears and place in a bowl. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice on the pears to ensure they do not discolour. Next, pour the white wine in a deep saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, and turn on the heat to medium. Place the pears into the liquid, ensuring that all the pears are submerged. Then, when it comes to a simmer, leave for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the pears are ready, take them out of the saucepan and set them aside in a bowl. Continue cooking the liquid till it is further reduced and has more of a consistency of syrup (approximately 10 minutes). Let the syrup cool and pour over the pears. Wrap the container in cling film and leave in the fridge until ready to use.
Bay infused miso caramel
This dessert boasts a miso caramel. But by all means, swap the miso for a pinch or two of salt for salted caramel instead. Also, don’t stop at bay when it comes to flavours; infusing caramel with herbs and spices such as lemon-thyme, lavender and allspice is delicious. Just experiment. If you have a gluten sensitivity, please check the ingredients to ensure that the miso you use does not contain added glutens, such as wheat and barley.
Makes: 300 ml
Cooking time: approximately 45 minutes
2 bay leaves
1 cup sugar, granulated
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup butter
1tsp miso paste (I used brown rice miso, but white miso is sweeter)
1/4tsp vanilla extract
1tsp lemon juice
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Crush the bay leaves slightly and add them together with the lemon. Stir the mixture until an amber colour forms (do not leave the stove as the caramelisation stage can happen quite quickly). Turn off heat, add cream (stand back as the caramel will spit and bubble) and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla and miso (At this stage, you can place the bottom of the pan in cold water to stop the cooking process as you do not want the caramel to go bitter). When cooled slightly, pour the caramel through a fine sieve to catch the bay leaves and possible hardened caramel bits and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for 2 months.
Black Sesame Pavlova
Makes: 1 large layer/4 large meringues
Cooking time: 3 hours
In Japan, I fell in love with black sesame for its earthy nuttiness and I really wanted to try and experiment with it. I think it really works well as a flavour for meringues. The activated charcoal powder here is used as a natural food colouring to achieve the black swirls, but feel free to leave it out.
5 egg whites, medium sized
1+1/3 cup caster sugar
black sesame sugar (recipe to follow)
1tsp white wine vinegar
natural black food colouring
1/2tsp activated charcoal powder
1-2tbsp vanilla extract
black sesame sugar
5tbsp black sesame seeds
5tbsp caster sugar
To ensure that the sugar dissolves easily in the meringue, you need to pre-heat the oven to 200c (400f) or, if fan-assisted, 180c (350f). Add the black sesame seeds to a skillet on the top of the stove and begin to process of roasting on a medium/low heat, stirring occasionally. When the black sesame seeds begin to make popping noises, take off the heat and pour in a grinder with the sugar and grind until a powder is formed (it is ready to use at this stage or can be stored in an airtight container for 6 months), set aside.
By this time, the oven should have reached its desired temperature. Place baking parchment on a tray and pour the sugar, evenly, onto this. Place in the oven for approximately 4 minutes. Meanwhile, separate the eggs (save the egg yolks for other recipes such as curds or custards) and begin to whisk on a low speed until the whites begin to grow frothy. Then, turn the speed to the highest for a another minute or so. Take the sugar out of the oven, and lower the temperature to 100c (212f) or 80c (176f) if fan-assisted oven (tip: keep the door slightly ajar to allow the oven to cool faster). When the egg whites begins to show peaks, begin to add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar is added, continue whisking, adding the white wine vinegar and corn starch, for another 5 minutes to ensure all the sugar has dissolved.
In a separate bowl or jar, add the charcoal powder, vanilla extract and 5 tbsp of the black sesame sugar and stir until fully incorporated. Pour this into the uncooked meringue and either stir until evenly distributed or, stir into a pattern (use a bamboo skewer to help create swirls). Place baking parchment on top of a baking sheet and pour the meringue in the middle in a circular shape, ensure that a well is created in the centre of the meringue (so that the outside edge of the meringue is higher than the centre so that it can later be filled). Place in the oven for 2 1/2- 2 3/4 hours. When ready, turn the oven off and leave in the oven until completely cooled. The pavlova can be stored for a couple of days in clingfilm in a cool place.
On the day, assemble the components. First, gently warm the caramel in a saucepan until runny. Folding the whipped mascarpone and double cream in the centre to ‘sandwich’ the layers with some of the caramel. Top with more cream, caramel and then adorn with the pears. The black sesame pavlova is now ready to be served and I would suggest to eat it immediately.
If you would like to make the large individual meringues, just omit the cornstarch and white wine vinegar and reduce the time to 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, or until they peel off the baking parchment easily and sound hollow when tapped.
Thank you for reading.