I first had pavlova at a Maori Hangi feast in New Zealand where I studied abroad in college. I’m not sure why they thought we would believe that pavlova was a traditional Maori dish but I wasn’t going to complain! I was instantly drawn to the dessert because it was light, fluffy, sweet, and the perfect base for fruit and freshly whipped cream (my weakness). It’s basically a giant meringue with lots of toppings. I fell in love with it all over again last Christmas while visiting my boyfriend’s family in Brisbane, Australia for the holidays. Since it’s scorching hot there on Christmas Day, pavlova is the perfect dessert since it’s cool and refreshing.
The funny thing about pavlova is that no one knows who first created it, which has caused yet another source of useless contention between the Aussies and Kiwis who still have a good-natured rivalry about the subject.
What we do know is that pavlova first hit the scene after Anna Pavlova, a prima ballerina from Russia, visited New Zealand in 1926 and Australia in 1929. The contentious Kiwis argue that the dish was created by the chef at the hotel where Anna Pavlova stayed in Wellington and was inspired by the shape and airiness of her tutu. On the other hand, the Aussies argue that Chef Herbert Sachse of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, where Anna Pavlova stayed in 1929 created the dish for the hotel’s afternoon tea and is reported to have named it pavlova after saying “it is as light as Pavlova”.
Regardless of which side of this controversy you stand, pavlova is a delicious and beautiful dessert that looks a lot harder to make than it really is. I watched a few youtube videos of how to make it before trying it myself, which I highly recommend. This is the one that I found to be the most helpful:
Here is the recipe that I adapted from my all time favorite Australian cookbook author Donna Hay:
You will need:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- Freshly whipped cream
- Fruit of your choice for topping
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer (I used a stand mixer) and beat on the highest setting until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating well until the mixture is glossy. Beat until when you turn the bowl upside down the mixture does not fall out of the bowl, which can take 10 minutes or more. Sift the cornstarch over the egg white mixture and fold through with the vinegar.
Pile the meringue mixture into a 7in diameter round on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper. (I drew the circle with pencil on the baking paper first and then flipped it over so that you could still see the circle through the paper but the marking doesn’t get onto the meringue)
Place in the oven, reduce the temperature to 250°F and cook for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meringue to completely cool in the oven.
To serve, top with fresh whipped cream and sliced fresh fruit such as kiwis, mango, passion fruit, blueberries, etc. and serve immediately!
This is Donna Hay’s pavlova, which looks stunning – mine didn’t turn out quite as pretty but heck, I’ll get there someday!