Can you even BELIEVE it’s this time of year already?? OMG! Where has this year gone you guys??
It feels like only a couple of months ago we were visiting home last Christmas and non-celebrating our new year’s eve drowning under piles of cardboard and bubble wrap, trying to fit our old life into neat little boxes to be moved into storage so we can put our house up on the market. It was such an emotional trip that proved to be more than we can handle at times, with lots (L O T S) of family drama, mixed emotions and frantic hurriedness to get everything done in very little time…so I suppose it wasn’t TOO different from what most family holidays are like, right? Ha!
As you may have guessed, Christmas isn’t a very widely celebrated holiday in Egypt, at least not in the classic western sense most of you know. Being a country where Christians are a minority, it isn’t as commercialised as it is in most western countries and not celebrated by the vast majority of Egyptians…we as a family, however, LOVED Christmas, and I grew up celebrating it every year without fail. I just have a soft spot for the magic and togetherness that this holiday brings, and I’m so fond of the memories I have of it.
Every year, my parents would throw a massive costume party for my sisters and me. We’d spend weeks planning and helping our mama make us our costumes using her old sewing machine and we’d each invite our hoards of friends ages in advance. There’d be masses of gifts, heaps of homemade food, an obviously child-decorated Christmas tree, a fake santa in a crappy costume and everything, and it was MARVELLOUS.
My father usually made a huge Christmas-tree-shaped cake that would make us kids squeal in delight, and it was always SO much fun helping him decorate it with WAY too much borderline fluorescent icings and sprinkles the night before. It was all just pure magic, and our cousins and friends grew to love this tradition and wait in eager anticipation for us to send out the invitations each year. I am eternally grateful for my parents for investing so much in making our childhoods so special.
While there was always plenty of delicious food at these parties, there was never really any specific food-related Christmas tradition for us. Sure, there was the absurdly bright green tree-shaped cake, but this was always more of a visual treat than an actual Christmas-y recipe whose taste we associated with the holiday. We didn’t really have any of those as each year the menu would change depending on what my parents felt like making basically.
Fast forward to 2013, when my husband and my grown-up self arrived in Australia for the first time, with nothing but a vague idea about this massive new country and just a couple of months before the holiday season began. Of course we knew that Christmas fell smack in the middle of summer in this part of the world, but we hadn’t really put much thought into it further than that. We were armed with our suitcases, our good intentions, our wild hopes and dreams and nothing else.
I cannot even begin to explain how otherworldly the whole thing seemed to us! We quickly learned that Christmas in Oz was all about barbecues, seafood, prawns, beaches and santa hats worn only with swimming suits, often spotted on surfboards. It was like a whole other parallel universe, and it was delightfully fascinating!
One classic Ozzy Christmas dish that I instantly fell for was the pavlova. It is the quintessential Christmas dessert down here, and deservedly so! If you’ve never come across a pavlova before, it is basically a large meringue made by whipping egg whites with sugar and a few other simple ingredients until a shiny and stiff cloud forms, which then gets shaped into a cake-like disk and baked in a low oven for a couple of hours till the outer shell is crispy and dry and the inside is slightly marshmallow-y and chewy. It has a stunning ethereal beauty, is quite simple to make, and is DELICIOUS when paired with tropical summer fruit like mangoes and passion fruit or berries. I had made it once before, back in Egypt, but seeing it in this new festive light made me itch to make it again. After a ton of testing with different sugars and fruit and toppings, this one right here became our favourite.
I felt like we needed our own new Christmas tradition…is that an oxymoron? lol, probably. But we did…and what better way to achieve that than to combine the classic Australian dessert with flavours from our Arabian/Middle Eastern heritage for something truly special and symbolic of our journey. A meeting of our two worlds, old and new, a fusion of the two places we’ve ever called home…and to our pure delight, it worked perfectly.
This Christmas, Woolworths are inviting everyone to share their special family food traditions, the recipes that make the holidays so remarkable to each and everyone of us. I absolutely love this initiative, the fact that it celebrates diversity and that no two families or stories are the same, yet each is worth celebrating and sharing. I am delighted to share mine with you, and would love it if you too could share yours across social media and tag your photos with #MakeYourChristmasFamous so that I can see them and be inspired by your wonderful creations!
Here’s to traditions, old and new, and to building your own personal ones, no matter what your background and circumstances might be. Merry Christmas!
*Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Woolworths
- • 3 egg whites
- • a pinch of salt
- • 100g caster sugar
- • 50g soft brown sugar
- • 1 tsp. white vinegar
- • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- • 1 tbsp. cornflour (corn starch)
- TO SERVE:
- • 200ml cream (or thickened cream)
- • 1½ tsp. rosewater
- • 3 fresh figs, sliced
- • seeds of 1 pomegranate
- • 50g pistachios, roughly crushed
- • dried rose petals (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
- Cut a large pice of baking paper to the size of your baking sheet. Use a plate (the one you will be serving the pavlova in) to trace a 18-20cm circle onto the baking paper with a pen or pencil; this will help guide you when shaping the meringue. Flip the baking paper over and place it onto the baking sheet so that the pen/pencil marking is on the bottom and not in contact with the food. Set aside.
- In a large bowl* of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl and a handheld electric mixer), whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt on medium speed until foamy.
- In a small bowl, whisk the sugars together, and start adding the mixture one tablespoon at a time to the foamy egg whites while mixing continuously and beating well after each addition. Keep going until you have added all the sugar, turn the mixer up to high and whisk until the meringue is very fluffy, shiny and stiff and the sugar has dissolved completely. Test a small amount between your fingers, there should be no gritty sugar crystals, if there still is, continue whisking for a couple more minutes. The mixture should be glossy and the meringue should stay firm and form a stiff peak when the whisk/beaters are turned upside down (refer to photos).
- Add the vinegar and vanilla and sift the cornflour over the meringue and mix for a few seconds until just combined, then switch off the mixer.
- Dab a small amount of the meringue onto the baking sheet underneath the baking paper in each corner to help keep it in place, which will make the paper stick to the baking sheet better and not move around while you are trying to shape the pavlova. Pile the meringue onto the centre, inside the circle you have drawn. Using an offset spatula (or a knife) shape the meringue into a round disk, smoothing the top and the sides while keeping it a couple of centimetres smaller than the circle (it will expand when baking). You can make swirls in any shape you like, it doesn’t have to be neat at all!
- Place the pavlova into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 120C (250F). Bake for 2 hours, then switch the oven off and leave the pavlova inside the oven with the oven door slightly ajar until cooled completely, about 3 hours. I like to wedge the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven door to keep it slightly open. Once cooled, remove onto your serving plate.**
- When ready to serve, whip the cream with the rosewater using an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Pile the cream onto the pavlova, then decorate with the figs, pomegranate seeds, pistachio and rose petals (if using) and serve immediately.
**If you are not serving the pavlova right away, you may store it wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and in an airtight container/large ziplock bag at room temperature for up to 3 days. This prevents the humidity from reaching it, which would cause it to become sticky.
• You may sweeten the whipped cream with a bit of icing sugar if you like, but I find that the sweetness of the pavlova is more than enough!
• It is normal for the pavlova to crack in places while baking, don’t worry about it being too perfect! Just use the whipped cream and fruit to cover any flaws.
• You can obviously use any fruit you like to top the pavlova.
• For a larger group of people, double the recipe, but keep the cooking times as they are. Instead of a 20cm diameter, increase the size of the circle on the baking paper to 25cm.