Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears ‘Belle Hélene’, and an Australia Workshop Announcement!

See Zaira’s Post

See Anisa’s Post

For all info, visit Anisa’s link above and / or scroll down to the bottom! of this post!


An Italian, an Australian and a French walk into a bar.
Then they start throwing their favorite national desserts at each other and the whole thing pretty much turns into a joke.
This intro is only needed to explain how I recycled a kitchen fail into something somewhat pretty and definitely delicious (even though way too sugary for one’s own sake). The goal was to make an Australian recipe to announce our Australia workshop (!!!) but things did not exactly pan out for me.

I am not unfamiliar with making a mess in the kitchen, but my ability to adapt and pull situations from the clutches of disaster has made me a pro at saving culinary fails and turn them into something edible.

Are you at all familiar with the concept of ‘Kintsugi‘?
Kintsugi is a Japanese technique used in pottery. Back in the olden days, when previous pottery from master artisans were transported from one place to another, despite all the care they put in wrapping and packaging them, they would inevitably end their journey in broken pieces. Those pieces were worth a fortune, and not only for the value of the materials: Though nothing more than a mix of clay, water and enamels, each art is the outpour of an artist’s soul, and breakage meant a piece of that soul gone to pieces.
So, instead of tossing the broken parts, they would put them back together with something that would make them endlessly more precious: a ‘glue’ of pure molten gold.
The end result is not only a beautiful piece of art, but a beautiful piece of philosophy as well: being broken makes items and people alike more beautiful when we find a way to put ourselves back together with the right ‘glue’.

Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!

This philosophy was absolutely life changing for me, to the point that no matter what goes wrong in my life, I tell myself the importance of finding ways to seeking purpose in everything independently of the way it unfolds. But because I’m a pro at failing in the kitchen and especially at breaking glasses and bowls (sorry Weck, I literally broke half the stuff you sent me), I love to apply this very idea of Kintsugi to the kitchen as well.
In this case, I think that the best ‘glue’ to put together kitchen disasters is just plain ol’ good enthusiasm. Why waste a single moment being upset at what did not turn out the way you wanted it to, when you can use your time and energy trying to make it good in some other way?
And this is how this dessert came to be.

Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!

The challenge with myself was to make merengue for pavlova, as multiple people told me how difficult it was to make. Because I am usually eager to accept challenges that involve strict culinary rules (Like the time I stubbornly wanted to make perfect soufflés and eventually managed) I couldn’t say no to this. The truth is that I HATE merengue. I HATE sugar, so merengue is definitely not in my idea of good things. Actually, I don’t eat most of the sweets you see on this blog, but I love making and photographing them.
Because I wanted to do something Australian to celebrate our workshop announcement with Zaira and Anisa, how could I not take the chance to combine Pavlova, one of Australia’s most famous desserts, with a challenge I wanted to take for the longest time? I already pictured in my head the image of this beautiful, tall, fluffy merengue cake with pointy peaks and caramelized edges.

Lol, NOPE.

For starters, it took me three tries and almost a pound of sugar to figure out that store bought egg whites just wouldn’t do the trick. Even though I have the luxury of having my own eggs here in the countryside, I did not want to have their spare yolks, as I wasn’t sure what to do with it and did not want to toss them. Big mistake. The merengue just wouldn’t set and stayed the consistency of soft marshmallow instead of forming peaks. Then I finally decided to try it out with two eggs from my hens, and meringue magically happened. But two eggs were not enough to make pavlova, so I just heaped it in two mounds and baked them that way. Result: perfect, but not pretty.
I decided to bake the ‘bad’ merengue as well, which turned out perfectly crispy and dry, even though it looked like random splotches on the baking sheet.

Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!


But this is the story of how a challenge to myself turned awry and was promptly salvaged via some proper Italian ingenuity, so I remembered Nigella Lawson making Eton Mess and salivating over it and I decided to turn my ugly meringues into that. Because both Zaira and Anisa used mascarpone and chocolate in their awesome posts, I wanted to keep following their thread and found a way to work it into the recipe.

Even though Spring has not been generous with its produce this year, the impending fall / late summer weather has blessed us with more figs and heirloom pears that we can handle. The pears from our three tiny trees are the most plump, crisp and delicious I have ever tasted, so I decided to poach them and make them ‘Belle Heléne’ style, a simple French recipe that involves pears poached in syrup, drizzled with chocolate, and served with cream, sabayon or ice cream.

And, while you savor the recipe in your mind, seep in some of the fairytale-ish light that my Italian countryside is bestowing upon us these days.
With a landscape like this, what matters if some merengues do not turn out as they should?
If all fails, we’ll just sit outside with a glass of wine.

And speaking of, read after the recipe the full program for our workshop!!

Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene'
Serves 4
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 2 very fresh egg whites
  • 100 to 130 g granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn or potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 4 small pears
  • 50 g brown Muscovado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
  • Half a vanilla pod, split
  • A 1-inch piece of cinnamon
  • Extra spices: 2 star anise, 3 crushed green cardamom pods
  • 2 cups / 500 ml water
  • 5-6 squares quality extra dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons leftover pear poaching syrup
  • 1 cup / 250 ml heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup Mascarpone cheese
  • The 2 yolks leftover from the merengue
  • Crushed pistachios
  • Cocoa powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 120 C˚ / 250 F˚.
  2. To make the merengue, make sure you have all the ingredients ready and that your egg whites are at room temperature.
  3. Start beating the whites for a minute, or until they turn frothy. From there, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Continue until the merengue forms stiff peaks - you might not need all the sugar, but the more you add, the more stable it will be.
  4. Add tablespoonfuls of merengue to a baking sheet lined with baking paper, and bake until fully dry, about an hour to one hour and a half. Let them cool completely in the oven.
  5. I found that they crisped up perfectly after I let them rest for a whole day.
  1. Peel the pears, cut them in half, and core them. Keep four halves whole and slice the rest.
  2. In a pot, bring the water to a boil and add the sugar and spices. Let the sugar dissolve, and add the pears. Poach for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove. Keep the liquid boiling until reduced by at least half.
  1. Add all the ingredients to a small pot and melt, or melt in the microwave by heating for 5-10 seconds and stirring, and repeating if necessary.
  1. While you can prepare all of the above a day in advance, assemble everything last minute.
  2. In a bowl, whip the egg yolks with the mascarpone until fluffy, about 2 minutes. In another bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the cream into the mascarpone.
  3. *If you do not want to use the raw egg yolks, just forgo them and whip the mascarpone before adding i the whipped cream.*
  4. Prepare 4 glasses and crumble some of the merengue on each, and some in the mascarpone cream, folding it in delicately. Layer some pear slices in each glass. Divide the mascarpone cream among the glasses, top each with half a poached pear, dust with cocoa powder and drizzle with chocolate sauce. You can chill this for an hour, or serve straight away.

A 2 and a half day chiaroscuro food photography, styling and cooking retreat held in Berry, NSW. Please go to this link for more information and to purchase tickets.

Retreat Teachers
Zaira Zarotti
Valentina Solfrini
Host: Anisa Sabet

The retreat is set at Bundarra Farm, a beautiful homestead nestled into the delightful village of Berry. The homestead is a beautiful large house with a communal kitchen and dining area where most of our classes will be held. The grounds are beautiful and we will have lots of opportunities (weather permitting) for outdoor dining. Berry is located approx. 2 hours from Sydney and Canberra.

Who Can Attend
This workshop is for beginner – intermediate photographers. If you’ve never picked up a camera, we will be going through camera settings and photography basics.
This retreat is perfect for those interested in food photography and who want to meet like-minded creatives. There are only 12 places available.

April 28 – 30 2017

Accommodation included is for April 28 and 29 2017, is on site, and is single beds or bunks in shared rooms. Accommodation is nice, immaculately clean but basic.

Join us for an intimate chiaroscuro food photography, styling and cooking retreat set in the picturesque and rustic Australian bush. We will cook, we will feast, we will laugh and learn.
Workshop sessions will be taught by photography creatives, Zaira Zarotti of A Freaky Table and Valentina Hortus of Hortus Cuisine. Both have mastered the beautiful art of story telling and moody photography.

Retreat highlights include

Photography basics | We will go through basic camera settings, how to approach lighting, colours, compositions, angles and lenses.
Styling process | Together, we will learn how to create beautifully styled food stories. Zaira and Valentina will demonstrate how to create a scene by going through the thought process, set up, examining natural light, crafting an environment, choosing props, managing time, and choosing angles.
Chiaroscuro | We will learn how to create this dark and moody type of photography with ingredients and using florals to make beautiful still scenes.
Cake making class | We will bake a special cake together, which we will then decorate, style and photograph.
Forage walk | We will (weather permitting) lead a participatory guided foraging walk around the grounds to show you how to find various plants and florals that would be suitable for use in photography styling.
Lightroom demonstration & preset building | We will sit down to a collective lightroom editing session, where we’ll talk about post-processing and how to develop your own preset to get the look you want consistently.
Business and Marketing | We will talk about the business side of blogging which is as important as the creative side. We will discuss blogging, sponsorship, marketing, social media and how to develop a consistent brand.
Special barnyard dinner | You will be treated to a special barnyard dinner under the stars. We will share a meal, sample local wine and share stories.
Autumn cocktail class | In a special masterclass, you will learn about autumn cocktails, which alcohols work best and which fruits and flavours to pair with them.
Feasting | The best part of the retreat – the feasting! Together we will cook and eat local produce, sample regional delicacies and get to know one another.


Friday 28 April

Welcome and housekeeping
Autumn cocktail class
Session 1 – Photography Basics
Session 2 – Styling and photography – cocktails and fruit
Long table dinner

Saturday 29 April

Session 3 – Cake making, styling and photography – ingredients
Picnic lunch and foraging walk
Session 4 – Chiaroscuro styling and photography – cake and florals
Afternoon tea
Session 5 – Editing and preset building
Barnyard dinner

 Sunday 30 April

Session 6 – Business, marketing and social media
Farewell morning tea

(*Note this programme is subject to change.)


There are only 12 tickets for this workshop available. Be sure to get in quick to avoid missing out on this once in a lifetime retreat.


Two nights shared accommodation on site
Beautiful cottage farmhouse location for the retreat period
All lessons and discussions
Welcome snacks and drinks
Two cooking sessions (cake making and fresh egg pasta)
Two Dinners
One picnic lunch
Two breakfasts
Two morning teas
One afternoon tea
Carefully curated set of gifts
Snacks during the retreat
Some wine/cocktails with meals

Not included

Transport to and from Berry
Extra alcohol

The workshop commences 12pm Friday 28 April and finishes 12pm Sunday 30 April. Please for more details.

The all-inclusive cost for the retreat is AUD $1500. This includes 2-nights shared-room accommodation in Berry for April 28 and 29 2017| AUD$500 deposit will be required on booking to hold your place, the balance will be invoiced two months before the workshop.  Please go to this link for more information and to purchase tickets.

Pavlova Mess with Mascarpone & Pears 'Belle Hélene', and an Australia Workshop Announcement!

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