I’m very behind in my Great British Bake Off baking. The series finished weeks ago and I’m only on vegan week. I had a break for birthdays, holidays and sickness and, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really fancy vegan pavlova. The meringue is made from chickpea can drainings. I didn’t believe that there was any way in the world that they were going to taste nice. I did say that I was going to try all of the technical bakes though, and it is still World Vegan Month. I took a deep breath and got a couple of cans of chickpeas out of the cupboard. Perhaps I’d be pleasantly surprised.
I used the Great British Bake Off recipe but, instead of making the enormous one that the Bake Off contestants had to construct, I made two small ones. You have to eat the pavlova immediately after you’ve assembled it you see, and there was no way that four of us would be able to eat all of a 20cm diameter pavlova, especially if it didn’t taste very nice.
Here’s what I ended up with. It’s not very artistic. I didn’t have the time to do anything fancy with my mango chunks other than to stick them onto the meringue. I’ve also been having trouble with my camera, so I apologise in advance for the quality of my pictures.
The pavlova stayed upright for a couple of minutes before the pastry cream started to slide off the top and the meringue started to crumble. The recipe was spot on when it said serve immediately. What about the taste though? and how easy were they to make? Let’s see.
Step One – Vegan Meringues
Vegan meringues use something called aquafaba, which is the water that you drain from canned chickpeas. You whisk it, along with some cream of tartar, as you would whisk egg whites to make meringues. The aquafaba thickens in the same way as egg white, it just takes more time.
As per the recipe, I whisked my chickpea water and cream of tartar in the KitchenAid at medium speed. The recipe says that you do this until the aquafaba is foaming, and that this should be between three and five minutes. My mixture started to foam pretty quickly. Definitely more like three minutes than five. I turned up the speed of the mixer and my whisk snapped.
It was still usable so I carried on.
Once the mixture had got to the stiff peaks stage I added caster sugar one tablespoonful at a time. Next came the vanilla seeds, and here comes a small rant about them and how they’re used in the recipe.
The recipe required the seeds of half a vanilla pod. What a strange amount to use. I wouldn’t have minded if the seeds from the other half were also used in the recipe somehow. There was vanilla in the coconut pastry cream filling, but, according to the recipe you got that from vanilla extract. Really?
Was I really supposed to only use half the seeds? What would be the effect of using all the seeds, other than to strengthen the vanilla flavour (or further mask the chickpea flavour)? If you’re going to have half of the seeds left over why not use them in the pastry cream instead of vanilla extract?
Anyway, vanilla rant over and back to the pavlova. The recipe uses xanthum gum to add structure to the meringue. I didn’t have any and neither did Tesco. I did a quick search and found that I could use agar agar as a substitute for the xanthum gum. Whether it would work to add structure to a vegan meringue, I didn’t really know, but we did have a tub of agar agar in the cupboard, so I though I may as well try it.
Once the agar agar was mixed in, I put the meringue into a piping bag and piped four 10cm diameter discs. I only used half of the mixture. Even if I had made the large pavlova, I would have had far too much – another negative for this recipe.
To make the elegant pavlova in the pictures on the Great British Bake Off website, I should have piped the circles with a decorative edge. My mixture was too sloppy and my piping skills too basic. My plain meringue discs went into the oven for an hour and fifteen minutes at 100° fan. I cooled them in the oven with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Here’s what they looked like.
Step Two – Coconut Pastry Cream
The meringue discs were to be covered by a coconut flavoured cream which was like a custard made from coconut milk with no eggs. I gave a can of coconut milk a good shake to mix up the thin and thick milk and heated three-quarters of it in a pan with some sugar, salt and vanilla extract (I used the whole vanilla pod in the meringue rather than the half pod specified in the recipe so I didn’t have any left over for the pastry cream). I’m not sure why, but the recipe required cane sugar. For some reason we have three open bags of granulated sugar in the cupboard and, luckily, one of them (Sainsbury’s Fair Trade) is made from sugar cane rather than beet.
I mixed the rest of the coconut milk with cornflour and, when the milk/sugar/vanilla mixture came to the boil, I added it and stirred for a few minutes. When the mixture thickened, I took it off the heat and stirred in some Vitalite. I was supposed to add some desiccated coconut here, but I didn’t have any. Desiccated coconut is one of those things that I buy for one recipe, use a tiny amount, and leave the rest of the bag at the back of the cupboard until it’s two years out of date and I throw it away. I didn’t want to do that again, so I left the coconut out.
I poured the pastry cream into a bowl and covered the surface with clingfilm.
Step Three – Mango Coulis
I didn’t make this. I’d run out of steam.
Step Four – Assembly
To put the pavlova together, I melted some vegan white chocolate (which I found in Tesco) over a pan of water. Unfortunately, I have to say that vegan white chocolate is a very different thing from a Milky Bar, and not in a good way. I spread the chocolate over the top surface of my meringue discs and left them to set.
I added some coconut yogurt (well my yogurt was coconut flavoured soya yogurt. I’m not sure whether this is the same as coconut yogurt) to the pastry cream and mixed until it was thoroughly combined. Once I’d done this, I spread the pastry cream onto the meringues. I put mango chunks into the pastry cream on the bottom of the pavlova and then put the second meringue disc in place on the top. I carefully lifted the other meringue onto the top and put some more mango chunks on the top. The pavlova wasn’t particularly pretty, but the meringues were in one piece.
Was it Worth It?
Well, as you can probably tell, I’m not vegan. Perhaps I didn’t really enjoy the pavlova because I simply wasn’t expecting to. I did try to keep an open mind though and, to be honest, it wasn’t bad. The Pavlova didn’t taste of chickpeas (thank goodness) but the meringue wasn’t as nice as one made with egg whites and certainly not as sturdy. The pastry cream wasn’t as good as custard or crême pâtissière either.
Unless you are vegan, I don’t think making meringues from chickpeas and custard from coconut milk is worth it. I’m not sure why I ever though it might be, but I could have been pleasantly surprised. Next time I’m going to make something that I know is going to taste nice. For me, life’s too short for chickpea meringues.