Presently, Cook and Clara went away to get dressed for their own Christmas party downstairs; and then Nana took Posy to bed. After that, although they had supper of cold turkey and meringues, the day was terribly finished...
Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfield
Where I grew up, in Brisbane, Christmas happens in mid-summer. Pictures of Santa depict him in board shorts and flip-flops, we sighed wistfully at any mention of snow in carols, and I generally spent at least a portion of the days itself in the pool. More often than not, we feast on prawns and salad, rather than turkey and roast potatoes. But, despite the heat, we always have a Christmas pudding, dotted with silver sixpence pieces my great-grandmother passed down, with custard and brandy butter. I love it, even while sweating profusely. It's tradition.
In the days surrounding Christmas, at family lunches and dinners with friends, you're much more likely to find pavlova on our table. In fact, there's also likely to be one on the table on Christmas Day, for those who don't fancy the pudding. Here in England, hot pudding and custard make sense. In Australia, a huge white mound of meringue and cream, covered with kiwi and passionfruit, is about as Christmassy a sight as I can imagine, traditional in its own way.
The Christmas that Pauline, Petrova and Posy celebrate Ballet Shoes comes at the end of a busy year - one full of change. They have new classes, new teachers and a gruelling schedule. But they note that although the day is perhaps more welcome than in preceding years, it isn't all that different. I find comfort and reassurance in this; those Christmas traditions we carry out every year. So much of it is the same each time - the canapés from Nigella's Christmas, the same decorations that are placed carefully back on the tree, the films that are watched over and over.
There are, of course, as many traditions as there are families and individuals who celebrate Christmas. In Ballet Shoes, the Fossil girls enjoy a traditional roast dinner, a game of hide-and-seek, and then cold turkey and meringues for supper. I'll be eating blinis in my pyjamas, watching It's a Wonderful Life and Skyping with my family in Australia. I'll also be cooking lunch for the Cotswolds-based family who take me in at Christmas, including an individual pavlova for my Cotswolds brother Tom, who hates 'hidden raisins' in desserts. It's just like every other year - except for the people whose absence will be felt. This Christmas, I'll be missing my Cotswolds sister Anna, who is working in Brazil, our cousin Mia, in Sweden with her family, and my sister Lucy, who is celebrating with her husband in Seattle. And so I'm going to re-read Ballet Shoes. So far from much of my family, I find the story of these three girls, sisters in everything but blood, an immensely comforting read.
2 egg whites
110g caster sugar (even better if it is vanilla scented - store your sugar with a couple of split vanilla pods for a few weeks)
1/2tsp cream of tartar
Up to 50g caster sugar
300ml double cream
Electric hand whisk or mixer
Knife and chopping board
1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Draw four 10cm circles on a sheet of greaseproof paper, flip it over, and use it to line a baking tray.
2. In a spotlessly clean bowl, beat your egg white to soft peaks. You can do this by hand, but if you have a mixer or electric whisk, now would be the time to employ it. Once at soft peaks, start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Beat on a high speed for another three minutes until the meringue is smooth, glossy and stiff.
3. Take a pinch of the meringue between your fingers and rub it. If you can still feel the grains of sugar, beat it a bit longer - the undissolved sugar will make your pavlovas weep in the oven. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, sprinkle the cornflour and cream of tartar over the meringue and gently fold it in.
4. Divide the meringue evenly between the four traced circles, and create a slight indent in the middle of each one, where the filling will sit. Transfer the tray to the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 140C and bake for 50 minutes. When the pavlovas are crisp on top, turn the oven off, leave the door ajar and allow them to cool completely.
5. While the pavlovas are baking, prepare the syrup. Put the seeds of the pomegranate into the saucepan and place over a low heat. Mash them until they release their juice, and then push them through the fine sieve, until you're left with only pulp and seeds. Weigh this juice, and return it to the saucepan, along with the same weight of sugar. Place back over a low heat, bring to the boil and allow to cool.
6. Release the seeds from the second pomegranate. Whisk the cream to soft peaks. Serve each pavlova with some cream, pomegranate seeds, and a drizzle of the syrup.