Pavlova is a classic dessert in both New Zealand and Australia and one of my personal favorites for special occasions. It was, according to legend, created for a Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who won the “Kiwi” and “Aussie” hearts when she performed there in 1927.
It is said that the first pavlova recipe was published in New Zealand in a book called “Davis Dainty Dishes.” The argument as to who was the creator of the dessert goes on between the two countries. I don’t blame them!
I first encountered the dessert in the home of a New Zealand family when it was served to us as a dessert after lunch. When I asked for the recipe, I received four different versions for baking the creation. I will include the four alternative baking directions below. Choose your favorite! Pavlova makes a spectacular springtime dessert topped with fresh strawberries.
Pavlova is basically a hard/soft meringue that is crispy on the outside and marshmallow soft on the inside. The principle ingredient is egg whites beaten with sugar, and the trick is to bake it at a very low temperature so it doesn’t brown at all, but rather will dry out in a low oven. If the pavlova is browned at all, it is chewy rather than delicate, so think of it as not baking in the oven but rather “drying.”
I have had the best luck when I bake the pavlova at a low temperature, then turn the oven off until it is totally cooled, without opening the oven door. So, my tactic is to bake the pavlova in the evening, turn the oven off, and leave it in the oven until cold the next morning.
Many people consider pavlova to be an Easter dessert, perfect to make ahead. However, I will serve it as a birthday cake with fresh berries and whipped cream.
I have sometimes baked individual pavlovas, by scooping the batter onto parchment paper to make 8 to 12 smaller desserts. Baking time is the same.
4 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh strawberries, sliced fresh kiwifruit, banana, raspberries, peaches or other fresh berries or fruit in season
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a large cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour. Draw a 9-inch circle in the flour.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt together until soft. Stir the sugar and cornstarch together and add to the egg whites a tablespoon at a time, beating at high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla until whites are very stiff and glossy.
Dump the entire bowlful onto the center of the circle on the parchment paper and spread it evenly to the edge of the circle. Smooth the top. The mixture should be about 1½ inches deep. Run a spatula around the edges to make the sides smooth.
Bake for 2 hours, and without opening the oven, turn it off and leave the pavlova in the oven with the door closed until cold, or overnight.
Up to 2 hours before serving, place the pavlova onto a serving plate. In a bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and spread it over the op. Decorate with fresh fruit or berries. Serves 6 to 8.
Alternative baking directions
- Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake for 35 minutes longer. Then, turn the oven off and leave it in the oven until cold, or overnight.
- Bake at 275 degrees for 1½ hours. Turn the oven off and leave it in the oven with the door closed until cold, or overnight.
- Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes and turn the oven off. Leave it in the oven until cold, or overnight.
You’ll have four egg yolks left from making the pavlova. They can be added to scrambled eggs or any other recipe you choose. However, a lemon curd is a delicious alternative filling for the pavlova. Lemon curd is really a lemon jam and can be used as a spread for scones or toast, or as a topping for butter cookies.
4 egg yolks
⅔ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, from 1 lemon
⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Place a small heatproof glass bowl over a saucepan with about an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low to keep the water at a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice in the bowl. Place the bowl over the simmering water and continue whisking until the curd cooks (this only takes about 10 minutes). Cook while whisking until the mixture thickens to prevent the mixture from curdling; remove from the heat. The mixture should be about the same thickness as hollandaise sauce.
Whisk the butter into the mixture; the butter will melt from the heat of the curd. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to prevent a skin from forming on top. The curd will thicken as it cools. Refrigerate, covered. After cooking, it will keep about a week and a half.
Makes about 1½ cups.
Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at beatrice-ojakangas.com.