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Pavlova...an utterly enchanting dessert

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I have never seen or eaten a pavlova in my entire life but was suddenly inspired to make it for friends over the weekend. For those who don't know, this dessert was named after a famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova; however, the debate of whether it originates from Australia or New Zealand seems hotter than the Outback desert in the summer.

My new book by Donna Hay had something to do w/ it, as the meringue recipe looked so easy and the photo of those pristine white cloud puffs beckoned. My photo of the resulting dessert is below, although it's rather dark and hard to really see the meringue platform piled under those other goodies.

One oversight was that I made Ms. Hay's meringue recipe while I later discovered another recipe specifically for pavlova in her book. Duh. The only difference is that there's an extra tsp. of cornstarch in her pavlova recipe and that her pavlova is one large meringue while I made mini ones that feed 1-2 people each.

Here's the meringue recipe that I used:
Makes around 10 mini or 1 large that serves 8-10
4 egg whites (5 fl oz)--I used extra large eggs
1 c. caster (superfine) sugar--I used C&H ultrafine found at Safeway
2 tsp. cornflour (cornstarch)--3 tsp. for pavlova
1 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat oven to 300F. Beat egg whites w/ whisk attachment til soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat til glossy and fairly stiff peaks. Fold in cornstarch and vinegar.

Line baking pan w/ non-stick paper (I sprayed w/ canola oil). For mini pavlovas, use 1/3 c. to scoop out batter, leaving enough room btwn. each for expansion. Shape into round w/ an indentation in middle. For large pavlova, make one large round.

Place in oven and reduce to 250F. Bake for 30-35 min. for mini; 1 hour for large. Turn oven off and allow meringue to cool in oven.

Once cool, top w/ faintly sweetened whipped cream and fresh or macerated fruit. I'm not sure if there's a traditional combo of fruits for the original pavlova, but I topped mine w/ raspberries and sliced yellow peaches. It's not traditional to macerate fruit, but I did w/ some sugar and lemon juice. I also added toasted pistachios for some crunch, flavor, and color. Sliced almonds would have melded better, but I didn't have any.

My overall verdict? As my subject line reads, utterly enchanting! This dessert is both delicate and lusty at the same time. It starts out so elegant looking, but once you cut through its layers of juicy ripe fruit, pillowy cream, and sweet, crunchy, chewy meringue, it feels like you're eating an adult sundae. The meringue had a nice caramel undertone and was the perfect foil for the fruit. This now ranks as one of my most romantic desserts and is even more romantic when sharing it w/ your special someone.

Romance aside, I do want to critique the meringue recipe a bit. Mine didn't get as fluffy or remain as pristine white as Ms. Hay's. There was also some cracking, but I didn't care since it would be covered. I think I added the sugar too early, so make sure to get medium peaks before adding sugar. Also think the oven was too warm which caused my meringues to brown a bit. I have a thermometer so I know my oven was at the requisite temp. Next time, I'm going to preheat to 250F and then bake at 200F. Low and slow is the way to go, I think. I will also use an additional tsp. of cornstarch next time.

Any feedback or suggestions for perfecting meringue or pavlova is appreciated!

Image: http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

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  1. Fantastic photo, as always!

    I would definitely suggest lowering the oven temperature. One of my favorite desserts is cake-shaped meringues layered with sweetened whipped cream, drizzled with good chocolate sauce and slivered almonds. The "cake" is baked for several hours at no more than 200 degrees, and you never ever open the oven door!

    What does the cornstarch do? I've baked little meringues without cornstarch before.

    Also, what did you do with the leftover egg yolks? I've toyed around with compiling a list of ingredients that complement each other in that one some use up all the yolks and some use up all the whites.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nooodles

      Actually, the whites were leftover from what else but gelato experiments! That was another incentive for making pavlova. For me, the complementary marriage of meringue and gelato seems quite ideal for now, except on the waistline. ;-)

      I actually consulted w/ my "Baking w/ Julia" book after the fact and the meringue recipe says that meringue-based desserts are baked btwn. 175-200F. I was wondering if my opening the oven door to check had any deleterious effects, so I'll be more cautious about that next time. The Hay recipe doesn't say anything about that, and the BWJ recipe actually says to monitor them so they don't brown.

      The recipe didn't say why cornstarch is used, but I'm assuming that it's kind of like cream of tartar which serves as a stabilizer. Should help it maintain its shape. I like the Hay book b/c it makes me actually want to bake, while it's def. not comprehensive w/ the background details and descriptions. I see myself writing little notes on post-its.

      I think that meringue does take some time to truly master, but the beauty is that it will taste delicious no matter how it looks. What's not to like about a crunchy, chewy marshmallow?

    2. Bravo-it looks delicious and cloudlike.

      The common fruits I've heard of are passion fruit, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, & peaches but it seems a pretty flexible dessert base like shortcake.

      Let us know how the next one with additional cornstarch holds up.

      6 Replies
      1. re: petradish

        I wonder if the cornstarch does anything to increase the meringue's shelf life? I've baked meringues that were just egg and sugar, and they didn't stay crisp even overnight. But the ones I've gotten from bakeries usually are fine for a day, sometimes more. Carb Lover, you wouldn't happen to have any leftovers, would you?

        1. re: nooodles

          Yes, I think they do. That's fine for meringues 'cos you want them crunchy/crispy. But that would be all wrong for pavlova, because only the outer shell should be crispy; the interior should be soft, 'creamy' and delicate.

          1. re: ju

            I did have some leftover meringues, and they held up well for another day before getting soft on me. That's interesting what you say about the cornstarch b/c Hay's pavlova recipe calls for 3 tsp. of cornstarch! That does sound like alot, but I thought it might help the undulating waves of the meringue to hold their shape while baking? Maybe it has more to do w/ the stiffness and fluffiness of the whites though? This first time they sorta "melted" into one mass like a puffy cookie.

            Do you pipe out the meringue bowl or free form it? Any tips appreciated. I like the idea of making one big one for full dramatic effect!

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I free-form it, using a spatula, then finish with the back of a dessertspoon to get the peaks and 'waves'. Despite baking for almost 2 decades, I've never mastered using a piping bag, so my cake decorations always look home-made (=amateurish) even though it tastes good. I also never make eclairs because I don't pipe. I do make profiteroles though- which I shape with 2 teaspoons.

              I've been thinking of taking cake decorating lessons so that my cakes will look more professional... am thinking of starting a small baking business.

              1. re: ju

                Piping really isn't that difficult. If you can squeeze toothpaste from the bottom of a tube neatly onto your toothbrush, you can pipe successfully. It's important to understand the limitations of your tip's shape & the properties of what you're piping to get a feel for how it sets on a surface-how much "pull"/resistance it has & its basic weight. With a little practice, just point, keep a steady hand, and hold/squeeze like you're in control, not the bag-but mentally always be aware of where you want to lead the tip. Good luck with your business.

      2. Welcome to the delicious world of pavlovas, CarbLover! One of my favourite desserts, deadly easy to make, good-looking, and always blows my guests away.

        I've been making them since I started baking in my late teens (so that makes it more than 20yrs of making - and eating - pavlovas), and here are some hints/comments that I hope you find useful:

        1. Lack of fluffiness: As you pointed out, you added the sugar a little too early. Best to add when the egg whites have almost reached stiff-peak stage.

        2. Cornstarch - yes, it's supposed to help stabilize the meringue. However, I find it affects the taste and texture (a little starchy-tasting, less fluffy) so I omit it and use, instead, a pinch of cream of tartar, added at the medium-peak stage. I would not add anymore cornstarch to your recipe - 2 tsp is a lot already!
        Vinegar - I've tried recipes that call for it, but I've found it does little for the result, so usually omit it.

        3. Make sure your mixing bowl/beaters/spatula are totally GREASE-FREE! I've learned through bitter experience that even a tiny amount of oil will prevent the whites from expanding, and, sadly, had to throw out the whole thing and start again. I usually wipe it out with vinegar or lemon juice before I put in the unbeaten egg whites.

        4. Oven temps - I use the same temps you did (preheat at 300F, lower to 250-275) and I like the slight browing at these temps. I think yours got too brown because you made mini pavlovas, so your idea of lowering the heat is a good one. I usually make one large pavlova as it has more visual impact, and I usually make a free-form one for a crowd of 10 or more.

        5. Traditional filling for pavlova - this would be strawberries with unsweetened whipped double cream. I also add blackberries and raspberries (and sometimes blueberries) for variety in taste and appearance. No nuts or chocolate sauce (as a PP suggested) - that would make it too busy.
        But I'd be happy with just raspberries - the combination of unsweeted cream, sweet meringue and tart raspberries is unsurpassed by any other, in my book. I prefer unsweetened cream because the meringue is sweet enough, but I've realised that Americans like much sweeter desserts than the British/Ozzies so a creme chantilly may be more to their liking.

        6. Hand-beating (in a copper bowl, preferably - I don't own one) is supposed to result in lighter fluffier meringue than a mixer because manually, you can incorporate more air and you can use a huge bowl which allows more room for expansion than the standard Kitchen-Aid mixing bowl. I hand-beat if I'm beating 4 whites or less (really builds up your arm muscles!), but use a hand-held electric mixer for larger quantities.

        Most of my American friends, even the foodie ones, had never heard of, let alone eaten, a pavlova. But after I'd introduced them to it, they're huge fans and I'm always being asked to make it when I offer to bring something to a dinner party or pot-luck.

        Let's spread pavlova goodness out there!

        9 Replies
        1. re: ju

          Another vote for hand beating. I did that for souffles when my hand mixer broke and had fantastic results using my biggest mixing bowl and a huge balloon whisk. It's really fun to watch the egg whites go from gel-like to fluffy, and it doesn't take as long as one would imagine. My friend, who was watching TV while I whisked, did a double-take when she looked over and the whites had turned to fluffy. People just don't understand the magic of food science!

          I whipped egg whites more recently in a stand mixer, and didn't love the results. It sure is fast, though.

          Question: how much ahead of time would you be willing to bake the pavlova? In the morning, for a dinner party? Or does it really have to be right before dinner? I'm wondering how the logistics would work if pavlovas need to be fresh from the oven, but dinner needs to be baked as well.

          1. re: nooodles

            I usually make the pavlova in the morning for a dinner party. I don't like it fresh from the oven, as the pavlova needs time to cool down and 'set up'. The good thing about this is you can then devote your oven and full attention to making the dinner. Just before serving, I whip the cream and top with the fruit; otherwise it'll get soggy if filled earlier.

            I've also made pavlova the night before a party. I just left it in the oven overnight with the door slightly ajar. However, this pavlova was drier and the insides more solid, which I didn't like.

          2. re: ju

            Sounds like you have many yrs. of pavlova perfecting under your belt! Thanks for the great tips! I used my KA mixer, but don't mind hand-beating so will try that next time if I'm not feeling lazy.

            I think just strawberries and whipped cream would be fantastic w/ this. I wasn't sure about proportions and think I will use a little less whipped cream next time to really let the meringue shine.

            Pavlova has got to be one of the most underrated desserts. It is so versatile and easy and is a great way to showcase fresh fruit! Way better than shortcake IMO w/ a much more impressive sounding name. "Honey, what's for dessert tonight?"..."Pavlova"...even the name is romantic.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              And it's a great July 4th dessert - red (raspberries/strawberries), blue (blueberries/blackberries) and white (cream and meringue)!

              BTW, I sometimes macerate the strawberries in balsamic vinegar and sugar, if the berries aren't top-notch - not a problem in July, or where you are in CA.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                That reminds me-with any leftover or broken meringue, whipped cream, and berries you could whip them into the not-so-romantically named Eton Mess aka pavlova roadkill.

                1. re: petradish

                  Pavlova roadkill - LOL! For Eton mess, I prefer to use broken-up meringues (the kind that are crunchy throughout) rather than pavlova, only because the versions I've eaten in the UK used these.

              2. re: ju

                Ju - just wondering if you have ever tried the "instant" version - years ago I when I lived in Melbourne, it was available in a plastic egg (like the old L'Eggs nylons) and the resulting dessert was pretty good! Never did get around to making the real thing - the instant was good and easy and also enchanting!

                1. re: chopstix

                  No, never seen it before! Sounds interesting.... do you mean the egg contained the already whipped whites, and not just unwhipped gelatinous egg whites?

                  1. re: ju

                    Gosh - it's been so long, all I remember was that the egg contained an off-white powder that was a snap to put together with fabulous results...and I have never seen the "egg" in the States. Oh well, another wish list item!

              3. A friend of ours, a musician from Australia, is also a really decent cook. He nearly always makes a Pavlova when he hosts a dinner party, and always makes it with kiwi fruit. Now, I normally don't much care for either kiwi OR meringue, but I adore Wayne's Pavlovas. Somehow the bland sweetness of the meringue and the gruff tartness of the kiwi balance each other beautifully...and of course I'd eat a plate of tennis shoes if they came with whipped cream!

                1. Your pavlova is gorgeous and makes me happy that it's summer.

                  One thing I would recommend is not using any oil spray on your paper since fat is the enemy of egg whites. A silpat is best, but otherwise just use parchment. If properly dried, the meringue will peel fairly easily from the paper, and should last many moons if stored in an airtight container.

                  Theoretically, the vinegar acts as an acid to prevent grittiness and cornstarch works to prevent shrinkage, but I've seen many recipes without either of these ingredients. If you can find fraises des bois or just a few threads of red or opal currants, these are also visually stunning!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: meta

                    Thanks for the info. Good point about the canola spray. I wanted to use parchment but had a measly strip left that was all curled up and not sufficient in size. I haven't been into baking til recently, so a Silpat def. sounds appealing but I wish they were cheaper!

                    1. re: Carb Lover
                      b
                      Becca Porter

                      According to Rose Levy Beranbaums cookie book you can also cook meringue on aluminum foil.
                      -Becca

                      1. re: Becca Porter

                        As a kid I used to use brown paper bags, cut open and laid flat.

                        1. re: snackish

                          Yeah, maybe these can be just as effective, although I've never tried them. The main thing is to be able to release the meringue without too much fuss - and to keep enjoying the romance of Pavlova.

                      2. re: Carb Lover
                        a
                        Amuse Bouche

                        Try super parchment -- basically, reuseable teflon coated parchment paper. Costs about $5-10 a sheet -- cheaper than a silpat. Perfect for Pavlova. Which is indeed, enchanting. I make it often with strawberries tossed with a bit of brown sugar and balsamic vinegar.