Normally, we don't see pavlovas popping up on dessert menus. In fact, the only place you may have seen this beauty is on the glossy pages of a food magazine. Perhaps you've dismissed the pavlova for its simplicity or it could be that you have never tasted the fabulous textures that culminate in this dessert.
Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert that is baked low and slow to produce a crisp and easily shattered exterior, which gives way to a pocket of soft marshmallow-esque interior. Commonly, the meringue is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, typically passion fruit, kiwi, and/or strawberries. Today, the pavlova can be found topped with different fruits, sauces, or sorbet.
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The story of the creation of the pavlova leads back to Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and the great dispute between New Zealand and Australia over which country created the dessert in her honor. Despite the disagreement, the pavlova graces tables across both countries for holidays and special events.
Pavlova recipes are readily available online, with slight variations. The basics that need to be in the recipe are egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, sugar, corn starch (or potato starch), and some vanilla (or vanilla paste).
To rock a killer pavlova, you want to make sure that your bowl and whip attachment are fabulously clean. Any trace of grease can inhibit your whites from fluffing. Let your eggs come to room temperature before using, to get those egg whites extra-fluffy and strong.
Corn starch should be whisked in with the sugar, which helps distribute it evenly and avoid clumps. Potato starch can be used in its place, if needed. The corn starch adds to the crisp exterior and helps set the interior, while leaving that interior texture marshmallowy vs. fully crisp.
Some cut their pavlovas in half, once baked, but I prefer to create a small divot while spooning the meringue onto the pans, that will hold fruit, sauce, and cream.
Getting to know your oven is a dance. Every oven is different. Much like getting to know a person on a first date, you have to experiment with your oven to learn the hot spots and whether it runs hot or cold. Always take baking temperatures and times as a suggestion. My home oven runs hot; therefore, I usually bake at a slightly lower temperature. I baked my first batch at 250 degrees, but the meringues started to brown, so I lowered the temperature. The next batch I baked, I did at 225 degrees, for 50 minutes, creating the perfect meringue that was still very crisp white in color.
Some recipes call for leaving the meringues in the oven overnight. I found that my meringues hold up just fine with an hour of low and slow baking, and a cooling session on their pans.
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Store in an airtight container, and do not assemble until ready to serve, as your meringues will get soggy from the toppings.
Make some berry sauce with fresh or frozen berries, a dash of sugar and some amaretto, brought to a boil, cooled then strained. Top your cooled meringues with berries, the sauce and some slightly sweetened whipped cream. This is a beautifully simple dessert. A multitude of textures and crisp flavors, it's not just for the summer dinner tables.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.