Perfect Pavlova

by Karen on Friday, February 25, 2011

Post image for Perfect Pavlova

There are few desserts as easy and beautiful as pavlovas. It’s simply a meringue topped with fresh whipped cream and fruit. The gorgeous white fluffy layers of the pavlova reminiscent of a tutu was inspired by famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. During the early 1900s, she began touring around the world and one of her stops was in Australia and New Zealand. It was during this time that the pavlova was invented, but by whom is still unclear. Some say that the dessert was invented in New Zealand in a Wellington hotel in 1926 and others say it was created by an chef at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, Australia in 1935. Either way, the dish is prized in New Zealand and Australia and its popularity has spread around the world.

The simplicity of pavlovas is misleading. They are actually difficult to get just right. The meringue which should be dry and crispy on the outside and gooey in the inside is mixture of egg whites, sugar and a little vinegar and cornstarch.  The first hurdle is to get perfect stiff egg whites, but with patience and discipline, you can easily master them. The next hurdle is the baking part and after making meringues all my life with what seemed like random luck, I came to the conclusion that your oven determines everything. Sometimes my meringues would turn tan, sometimes they’d be soft on the outside. Everyone’s oven temperature is different and the sensitive egg whites may not work at what your oven thinks 275 degrees is. So my point is, if you’ve never made meringues before, be prepared to play around with the temperature– that’s what I had to do with mine. But once, you’ve acquainted yourself with your oven’s temperament, pavlovas really easy to make.

Pavlovas originally are served in one large circle, almost like a cake, but I made mine into individual servings.  Make sure to use room temperature egg whites. This will help to you get the maximum lift in your meringues. Also make sure your bowl, whisk, hands– everything is clean, clean, clean. Any trace of fat or oil will prevent your egg whites from becoming stiff.

– 6 large egg whites at room temperature
– 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
– 1 tsp of white vinegar
– 1 ½ tbsps of corn starch
– 1 cup of granulated sugar

– 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, cold
– 1 ½ tbsps of granulated sugar, or to taste
– ½ tsp of pure vanilla extract
– fresh fruit.  Here I’ve used strawberries since that’s what was available. I macerated them in a couple spoonfuls of sugar. Just coat your cut fruit in a little sugar and let them sit for a while and they’ll become sweet and juicy.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Place your egg whites in a clean bowl and with the whisk attachment start beating your egg whites on a slow speed. When the whites are combined, bring the speed up to medium and whisk until they start to become foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly begin to add the sugar a little at a time. Once they become white and form soft peaks add the cornstarch in and increase to high speed. Add the vanilla and vinegar and whisk for another minute or until your egg whites are stiff. Rub a little bit of the meringue between your fingers to ensure there is no gritty sugar (there shouldn’t be, but if it is just keep whisking the egg whites until its smooth). There is such a thing as over-beating egg whites, so stop when they form peaks.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat and using a spoon or a pastry bag with a large piping tip, make little circles of meringues. I love the free form shape using a spoon and if you are doing so, just make a little indentation on the top so the fruit can sit inside it.

Put your meringues inside your oven and turn down to 225 degrees. Again, you may have to play with the temperature on your oven. I initially started making them at 300 degrees, but this turned my meringues tan. You may have to go 25 degrees up and down to get the perfect temperature. You can also rotate your pan to prevent uneven tanning. The point of having a higher temperature initially is to set that crispy outer layer, so wherever you start make sure to turn down your oven about 25 degrees after first putting them in. Bake about 50-60 minutes. Keep checking on them, they should be lightly airy and crispy on the outside, but have a smooth marshmallow texture on the inside.  If they’re turning tan, your oven is too hot.

Turn off your oven, and open then door. Let your meringues cool completely before topping and serving them.

To make whipped cream, pour 1 cup of cold heavy cream into a bowl whisk until it starts to become thick and stiff. Add the 1 ½ tbsps of sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract in and continue to whisk until it is firm. Again, there is such a thing as over-beating cream, so stop right when it starts to firm and hold soft peaks.

Top your meringues with a spoonful of cream and fruit of your choice. You can keep the meringues crisp in an air-tight container and I wouldn’t suggest making these on a rainy or a humid day, they won’t be crispy very long out of the oven. Enjoy!

(Image of Anna Pavlova from here)


Belinda @zomppa February 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Beautiful dancer and beautiful dessert!! They turned out so beautifully – such precision and grace!

elle marie February 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm

It truly is beautiful! I have not had this since I was as child, you are inspiring me to separate my eggs = )

Adriana February 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm

And this is why I am friends with you…. and why I am going to have lunch at your place on Wednesday. Hope you have some left overs. But if you feel inclined to make a friend a fresh batch, I won’t argue. : )

Renee @ February 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Yo, Karen: This was delightful, and I don’t even like desert, or think of it. It was like the lightest, sweetest piece of heaven. Anyone who doesn’t like merengue may seriously reconsider when they taste your Pavlova. Thanks for always surprising me with your fabulous creations.

Also, love the pictures.

Jennifer (Delicieux) February 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Glad to see your pavlova’s worked out in the end. They look gorgeous….like little tutu’s. 😀

I love that you served them with fresh strawberries, my favourite pavlova topping.

Karen February 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Yes, thanks for the feedback on twitter! Now if I can only repeat this again, I think I’ll have my oven under control 😉

Maureen May 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Nothing tops a good meal off than a light, fluffy pavlova. Love your photos!

Sailor December 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm

We need a lot more intsighs like this!

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