Recognized as one of the national desserts of New Zealand and Australia, this iconic dessert is said to have been named after Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina who frequently toured both countries. Much like the meringue-based treat, her dance performances were light and airy.
Each bite of pavlova offers a variety of tastes and textures – a cloud of whipped cream and a heap of fresh berries, a crispy meringue shell with a marshmallow-like middle.
It’s the perfect summer dessert, but many home cooks avoid making pavlova recipes because they involve meringue, a sweet and shiny mixture of beaten egg whites and sugar.
Yes, meringues can be tricky, but if you follow a few simple rules and avoid common pitfalls, you can create a flawless pavlova every time. And it’s easier than you think.
What is pavlova? Is it the same as meringue?
The pavlova is not a classic meringue. Pavlova and traditional meringue involve egg whites and sugar, whipped until stiff, glossy and smooth. The mixture is then shaped, cooked and cooled before serving.
However, while meringue is traditionally dry inside and out, an ideal pavlova is soft and fluffy in the middle and crispy on the outside.
To achieve this texture, there are some simple but essential tips to follow.
How to make a perfect pavlova
Use glass or metal bowls. Make sure all your equipment is clean and dry, and only use glass or metal bowls to separate eggs and whip whites.
Plastic bowls may contain leftover grease from previous use, and the humidity will prevent your egg whites from becoming light and fluffy.
Keep humidity under control. Do not make pavlova on days with high humidity. Rainy day? Save the pavlova for another time.
Pavlova is basically a mixture of egg whites and sugar. Sugar is hydrophilic, which means it absorbs water from the environment. When sugar molecules contain water, egg whites cannot hold them. The result is a pavlova that will crumble in the middle or weep (separate).
It’s not just rain. Be sure not to boil pasta water, do the dishes, or start a kettle until your pavlova has completely cooled as the meringue can be finicky before, during, and after cooking.
Once the meringue has completely cooled, you are free to do whatever you want.
Use egg whites at room temperature. Room temperature egg whites whip better and faster than cold eggs, ensuring maximum volume.
But it’s easier to separate the eggs when they’re cold. Separate them first, then let the whites sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before whipping.
Reserve the yolks for another use.
Don’t whip too fast. Speaking of whipping, whip your egg whites on low to medium speed. Yes, you read that right. Never whisk above medium-high.
When whipping egg whites at high speed, air is added quickly. That same air ends up escaping quickly, because the foam isn’t stable enough to hold on to.
Low and slow is the best way to ensure a successful meringue.
Use finely ground sugar. Finer sugar dissolves more easily. So use caster sugar, which has a fine texture, or process granulated sugar in a blender or food processor until fine.
Add the sugar slowly. When adding sugar to frothy egg whites, add 1 tbsp at a time. Make sure each tablespoon is completely dissolved before adding the next tablespoon. Any undissolved sugar will absorb water and your meringue may fall apart or leak.
Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. When your meringue is apparently ready to cook, test to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. To do this, rub a small amount of meringue between your fingers. If the meringue seems grainy, you need to whip the mixture more. Also check for sugar under the whisk and at the bottom of the bowl.
Do not look ! Bake your pavlova in a low oven and resist the urge to open the oven. We want the meringue to expand slowly so the inside stays marshmallow-like while the outside crunches.
When the oven is too hot, the meringue will rise quickly and then deflate quickly as it cools. Also, opening the oven door can cause rapid temperature changes, which will prevent proper cooking.
Prepare the pavlova the night before. Even cooked at low temperature, your pavlova needs to cool gradually. Rapid changes in temperature can cause the meringue to crack or collapse.
Cool the pavlova in the oven after the oven is off for at least 6 hours.
Pro tip: Prepare the pavlova in the evening and let it cool overnight in the oven. I left my pavlova in the oven for 12 hours.
Recipe: Simple Strawberry Pavlova
You can prepare your meringue pavlova up to 24 hours in advance, but only the meringue part. Be sure to store it in an airtight container away from moisture (not in the refrigerator). Whip your cream and add it with the strawberries just before serving.
Makes: 6 servings
- 7 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 ½ cups powdered or granulated sugar that has been processed in a food processor or blender until fine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons of white vinegar
- 1 ½ cups whipped cream of your choice
- 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
- Preheat the oven to 300 F (convection mode is preferred, but not required).
- Trace a 9-inch round cake pan or plate onto a large piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper over and transfer it to a large baking sheet.
- Place the egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat over medium-low heat (about speed 4 on a 10-speed mixer) until soft peaks form and are frothy and not yet holding their shape. Note: This may take a few minutes, depending on your blender.
- Reduce mixer speed to low (speed 3 on a 10-speed mixer) and gradually add sugar, 1 tbsp at a time. Make sure each tablespoon of sugar is dissolved before adding the next tablespoon. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
- Once all the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to 4 and beat until the egg whites are thick and shiny and hold their shape when the whisk is lifted. This may take several minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine cornstarch and vinegar and stir until cornstarch is dissolved. When the meringue is glossy and thick, increase the mixer speed to 5 or 6, add the cornstarch mixture and beat for another 30 seconds.
- Use a clean, dry spatula to transfer the mixture to the center of the circle on the parchment paper. Note: If there is undissolved sugar at the bottom of the bowl, do not transfer it to the parchment paper. Spread the meringue to fill the circle, then smooth the surface. If desired, use an offset spatula to make decorative swirls on the top and sides.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 225 F. Bake for 90 minutes (do not open the oven door during baking).
- Turn off the oven and let the pavlova cool for at least 6 hours.
- When ready to serve, top pavlova with whipped cream and berries. Serve immediately.
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