Pavlova: a Decadent Dessert
What is a Pavlova?
According to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, Australians claim that this dessert, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and cut fresh fruits, was created in 1935 by Herbert Sachse, an Australian chef, in honor of the Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Pavlova had visited Australia and New Zealand in 1926. The built-up sides of the meringue, to some, suggest the appearance of a tutu. But the actual facts or Pavlova’s origin and name are far from clear. Be that as it may, this is a luscious dessert, and it has rightfully become well-known in many parts of the world.
Where Greg Learned to Make a Pavlova
I learned how to make this from Elizabeth Germaine, a cookbook author and cooking teacher from Melbourne. She made it for special occasions for as long as she can remember in her home country, and she has continued to do so since moving to the United States more than 30 years ago.
The hallmark of a well-made Pavlova is a crisp meringue exterior with a marshmallow-like interior. “Do not make this on a humid day,” Elizabeth cautions, “It will just not be right.” The traditional fruits for a Pavlova are strawberries, bananas, kiwi, and passion fruit. For the one pictured in this recipe, I used kiwi, raspberries, and blackberries. Passion may be hard to find, or if you can find it it’s liable to be quite pricey, so many bakers leave it out.
For the most voluminous, stiff meringue, make sure your mixing bowl and whip are scrupulously clean and free of grease.
Variation: Passion Fruit Pavlova
Passion fruit, the fruit of a tropical vine, is about the size of a large egg. According to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, it gets its name from Jesuit missionaries, who used the Spanish name of the passion flower–Flor de las cinco lagas—flower of the five wounds–to illustrate the crucifixion of Christ. Each part of the flower has a specific symbology.
The most common variety of passion fruit, the kind grown in Australia and New Zealand, has a deep purple skin. The rind of the Hawaiian passion fruit is yellow. The soft, orange pulp contains tiny, edible, black seeds, and all of it is used to make Pavlova.
- 3/4 cup egg whites About 6 large. At room temperature.
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup Baker's sugar or granulated sugar a brand of fine granulated sugar, but not superfine
- 3/4 teaspoon cider or distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh Fruit Topping
- 3 kiwi fruit peeled and sliced
- 1 cup raspberries
- 1 cup blackberries
- Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 250 F.
- Set an 8-inch round layer cake pan onto a sheet of cooking parchment on a cookie shee and trace a circle around its base with a pencil.
- Turn the parchment upside down.
Make the Meringue
- Beat the whites with the salt on medium speed until they form soft peaks that droop at their tips when the beater is raised, about 2 minutes.
- Add 1/3 cup of the sugar and beat on medium speed until the sugar is dissolved and the whites resemble a thick marshmallow cream, about 2 minutes.
- While beating, add the remaining 2/3 cup sugar in 6 installments (scant 2 tablespoons) beating for 30 seconds after each.
- Increase the speed to medium high and continue beating about 3 minutes, until the meringue stands in stiff, straight, unwavering peaks.
- On low speed beat in the vanilla and vinegar.
Place the Meringue
- Take small dabs of the meringue to "glue" the parchment corners to the cookie sheet.
- Scoop the remaining meringue onto the circle outline and shape it into a 3- to 4-inch tall casing a little over 8 inches in diameter with about a 1-inch-deep depression in the center.
- Make the depression with a soup spoon.
- A narrow metal icing spatula is useful, but not essential, to smooth the sides.
- Put the meringue into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until it is a pale golden brown
- Turn off the oven, prop the door open, and leave the meringue in the oven until it is completely cool, 2 to 3 hours.
Make Whipped Cream
- Beat the cream with the confectioners' sugar and vanilla until very thick.
Assemble the Pavlova (just before serving)
- Set the meringue onto a dessert platter and spread the whipped cream into the depression.
- Arrange the kiwi, blackberries, and raspberries onto the cream.
- Bring to the table and cut into portions.
- The cream and fruit will not stay put, but that is part of the dessert's charm.