The pavlova is a famous dessert down here in the South Pacific. It’s a giant meringue with a crunchy outside and soft marshmallow inner and was named after the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is truly delicious, but its real claim to fame is the dispute over the origin of the dessert – was it created by the Australians, or the New Zealanders? I’ve always wanted to make one, just to see what the fuss really is all about.
Research tells us that the pavlova originated in New Zealand. Anna Pavlova’s biographer says it was created by a hotel chef in Wellington during Anna Pavlova’s 1926 tour. The delicate dessert was thought to represent her incredible grace, and it is as light as air, just as she was when she danced. The first Australian recipe for the meringue-type dessert we know as pavlova doesn’t appear to turn up to around 1935 (however, there is an Australian recipe for gelatine-based dish called pavlova from 1926). A church in Rangiora, New Zealand believes they have found a recipe for “Pavlova Cake” published in 1933 that is very close to the one we use today, which further cements the honour for New Zealand.
So it appears that pavlova is as Kiwi as can be, but is incredibly popular both here and in Australia. It is very much a dessert you eat at Christmas time, and to be honest, it’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever tried to make. Below is my attempt at making a pavlova.
How to Make A Pavlova
(or “Pav” if you’re my mother-in-law)
The first step for me was to ring up my mother-in-law and ask for her recipe. Forty-five minutes later, I finally had it.
- 4 egg whites
- 2 cups caster sugar
- 1 dessert spoon cornflour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 8 tablespoons boiling water
- An electric hand mixer or a stand mixer. These are essential. You cannot make a pavlova without electrical beating equipment.
- Plastic spatula
- Sheet pan well covered in non-stick spray or baking paper (my preferred method)
- The older the eggs are, the better. Fresh egg white will not whip up as much as well. My eggs were a week old, and I still have another week on them.
- I separate one egg at a time over a separate bowl to ensure that if I’m on the fourth egg and I manage to get some yolk in it, I don’t ruin the other three egg whites with the yolk.
- You also want the eggs to be at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge a couple of hours before you want to start whipping them up.
- My mother-in-law did not specify caster sugar, but I prefer it for these kinds of things. If you only have normal sugar, just put the sugar in the blender for a few seconds and hey presto, you have caster sugar!
- Make sure your bowl and mixing machine are incredibly clean. Any fat residue will mean the whites will not mix into the glossy stiff peaks we need for this. This is also why you cannot use a plastic bowl for this. Plastic holds onto fats so no matter how clean that bowl is, it will still likely be tainted.
Method and commentary
Preheat your oven to 300° Fahrenheit/150° Celsius.
Place all the ingredients but the boiling water in the bowl of your stand mixer, or, if using a hand mixer, a very large bowl.
Then start the mixer, and immediately add the hot water.
The next step said beat until stiff peaks form. Let me tell you, this took a long time for me. My NZ$15 electric hand mixer struggled with this, and, to be honest, I didn’t really know what stiff peaks looked like. It took me nearly 30 minutes of beating to get to the stiff peaks stage. It is possible I was there ten minutes earlier, but I really wanted to make sure. It appears that stiff peaks are incredibly glossy and will stand up on their own with some slight tip bending. If it feels incredibly stiff and hard to beat, you are probably there.
When you are at stiff peaks stage, spread the mixture out onto a flat sheet pan, either well-lubed with non-stick spray or baking paper. I used the baking paper method, mainly because I am lazy and this cuts down on having to scrub the tray later on. Using a plastic spatula, attempt to mould this sticky mess into a roundish shape, then place in the oven.
The recipe says 1 hour in the oven, but I believe that might have been a bit long for my oven. It had been heating up for a very long time by the time I had beat the shit out of those egg whites. I believe this may have had something to do with my slight displeasure with the end product. I would look at it at 30 minutes and 45 minutes, just to check how it is getting on BUT AT NO STAGE OPEN THE DOOR. This is a souffle-like situation; we do not want it to collapse on us.
Once you turn the heat off, leave it in the oven for another hour, again without opening the door. Just let it cool there. Do other things while you wait. Unfuck the mess you have made, for instance. I can guarantee there may be egg whites on the floor somewhere. Just wait until you step in it and tramp that sticky mess all over your freshly cleaned floors, not that this happened to me at all.
Once this rather long period is up, you can pull it out of the oven. I was a bit disappointed when I pulled it out of the oven, so showed it to Mr. Cesy. His response was “Well I’ve seen worse ones come out of Mum’s oven,” which I suppose is high praise indeed. I’d really rather it not have cracked so very much, which is why I will reduce the cooking time next time. It is supposed to crack slightly, but this was more than I was expecting.
However, all is not lost. What we need is whipped cream and fruit. Whip up some cream (adding some icing sugar for a kick of sweetness and a little more vanilla extract) and slather the cream all over the pavlova.
The next step is to decorate with whatever fruit you wish. Tradition calls for kiwifruit (we never call it just kiwi. A kiwi is a bird. This is a fruit. Very different things.) I also love strawberries, so I’ve included them as well. Other toppings I’ve seen include passion fruit pulp, crumbled chocolate, and pomegranate seeds, all of which are delicious.
We didn’t end up eating it when I made it, but rather the next day for breakfast. Mr. Cesy said it was incredibly tasty and gave me the thumbs up. While it was not pretty, it had the correct texture of being crisp on the outside and almost like marshmallow in the centre. The sharp sweetness of the fruit was the perfect complement to the cream and the pavlova.
So I’m pretty stoked that my first pavlova turned out as well as it did. It took me far longer than expected and we ended up eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days, but I now have now made a fearsome dessert that well deserves its place as the national dessert of the South Pacific.