This ethereal crown of meringue, filled with cream and berries is a Pavlova. The name comes from the ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was performing around the world in 1926 and made a stop in the land down under. From there the details get a little fuzzy and no one is quite sure if it was a pastry chef from Australia or New Zealand who first made this dessert for her. It causes a heated debate amongst them if you declare it one way or the other, so I am staying vague on the origin. This is one of my favorite desserts, because I am a huge fan of meringue in just about any form. I love how it looks, how it tastes and the texture it lends. Pavlova, unlike other meringues, is made with vinegar and cornstarch, so the end result is crisp on the outside, but still has some tooth (chew) on the inside. Traditionally it is served with fruit, such as berries and passionfruit (that’s what is dripping off the edge) and whipped cream. I also added lemon curd, but there are no rules and you can fill this with whatever moves you.
- 150g egg whites ~ about 5 egg whites (Use a kitchen scale for this to make sure you are getting the right amount of egg whites)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional. It will make the meringue stronger, especially if you have older, weaker egg whites)
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1 1/4 cups (250g) superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon vinegar (white wine, cider or distilled)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Trace a 6-inch circle on a piece of parchment and set it in a baking sheet.
- Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt together until medium-stiff peaks.
- Add the water slowly while whipping the whites on low speed. Drizzle in the sugar, then turn up the speed and whip until stiff peaks.
- Fold in the vanilla, vinegar and cornstarch.
- Mound the meringue into the circle on the parchment. Use a spatula to create the design in the meringue (see my pavlova video on instagram)
- Bake for 60 minutes or until the meringue starts to turn a very pale tan color, then reduce the heat to 250°F and continue to bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven (don't open the door), turn on the light in the oven (don't stress if the light doesn't work) and let the meringue sit in the cooling oven for at least an hour, but it can be stored like this over night.
- The center of the pavlova will collapse, that's just the nature of the beast and where you will put your filling. The outer edge may crack a touch too, but I've made this shape several times and it generally only cracks a little if you do not open the oven door. The inside should be soft, but not at all wet.
1. Why add water to the meringue?
Water makes for a thinner, more delicate meringue, so the end result is not rock hard, but a tender (soft) interior, while still crisp on the outside. Adding the water makes the egg foam less stable, which is why it’s SUPER IMPORTANT to also add the vinegar, which strengthens the proteins and helps make a strong but tender foam.
2. Why add vinegar to the meringue and why at the end?
Normally I would add an acid (either cream of tartar or vinegar) at the beginning of whipping the whites to help add stability and ensure a strong foam that won’t weep moisture. But, I was adding the water to thin out the whites, so I waited until after they were fully whipped before adding the vinegar. It still does its magic as long as it’s added before baking.
3. Why add cornstarch to the meringue?
Adding the starch to the foam helps create a softer meringue and one that is easy to cut, opposed to a meringue that shatters when you touch it with the knife. Because it interferes with the structure of the eggs (that’s why it’s softer), I whip the whites until STIFF and then I fold the starch in at the end. The starch also prevents the baked meringue from shrinking.
4. Why leave the light on in the oven after the pavlova is baked?
The oven light puts off just enough heat to keep the pavlova dry until you are ready to fill and serve it. This is key in the humid summer months. It can sit in the oven for up to 24 hours with the light on.
5. Can you make a pavlova if you don’t have an oven light?
You can still make the pavlova, but don’t open the door until you are ready to serve, and don’t try to make it WAY in advance if you live in a humid climate.
6. How can I prevent the pavlova from cracking?
There are a few reasons your pavlova may be cracking. Here are a couple of things to make sure of:
- Mix it to the right consistency, stiff peaks, so it’s not expanding too much in the oven.
- Your oven may run hot, which means the pavlova is expanding quickly in the oven and it can cause cracking. I suggest getting an oven thermometer to check the temperature.
- Mix it long enough so the sugar dissolves into the egg whites so that it becomes a uniform glossy mixture. MAKE SURE to use superfine or caster sugar so it dissolves quickly.
7. How can I prevent the pavlova from getting soggy in the fridge?
If you put it in the fridge, it will become soggy. Make it just a few hours before serving. It’s not something you want to do a day ahead. Hold off on adding fillings until you serve it.
8. How can I prevent the pavlova from smelling or tasting eggy?
To ensure your pavlova doesn’t taste or smell eggy, be sure to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, so they are properly aerated, and bake it thoroughly.