Pavlova: is it the best dessert ever? (Hint: Yes. Yes, it is.)

 pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

I was totally going to have a dumb joke title like "pavlova, I hardly know ya!", but realized that made zero sense.

So i went with the slightly more hyperbolic, but far more accurate headline above. Cause let's face it, pavlova is the shit

Named after the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, and thought to be created in her honor during one of her tours of Australia (or New Zealand) in the 1920s, it's a meringue shell, topped with whipped cream and fruit. Traditionally the fruit is some combination of strawberries, passion fruit, kiwis, bananas. The meringue isn't your regular crispy meringue either; it's crispy on the outside and marshmallowy and pillowy on the inside (thanks to vinegar and cornstarch).

This year, there were a billion folks at my mom'parents house for their super laid back easter festivities (featuring the oddly competitive easter egg hunt), and I was on dessert duty. Now, I am not a massive fan of cake, much preferring the pie-style for desserts (don't get me wrong. I am not ever turning down cake), but I also figured something a bit lighter might do well after stuffing our gaping maws with mac and cheese and ham and crescent rolls and candy. Thus, pavlova.

Despite looking delicate, it's actually a great dish to bring to a party, so long as you can protect your meringue from transit, small children, and nibblers. Just bring the fruit and cream separate, and assemble there. I figured if mine didn't survive, it's wind up as some impromptu Eton Mess (crumbled meringues, whipped cream, berries, served in a dish).

Choosing the fruit was easy: mixed berries all the way, passion fruit not just because it's traditional but because i love it. And no bananas or kiwis because enough was enough. Though i did as lemon curd because who doesn't like lemon curd? People who are dead inside, that's who.

Fairway totally let me down on the passion fruit front, but at least they had frozen passion fruit pulp. (by Goya, oh boy-a! And now I have totally dated myself. Whatevs. I'm old.) 

I didn't have the one true recipe for pavlova, so i read through a few, and cobbled together one that I'm pretty happy with, all told. 

This makes a big pavlova, about 10" across, but can also be used to make individual ones by doing little meringue nests instead of one big one, or reduced by taking down the number of egg whites.  A few notes on whipping egg whites: the bowl and whisk must be totally clean, with no grease or the whites won't whip. And even a tiny drop of yolk in the whites will make the whipping fail. So separate carefully. (Whipping cream is easier, just keep it all very cold.

here it 'tis, with inspiration and adapted from Ina Garten, Martha Stewart (technically Geoffrey Rush's recipe), Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and The Kitchn.

Pavlova

Serves 8 to 10

Meringue: 

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp plain white vinegar 
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch salt

Topping:

  • 8 oz heavy or whipping cream, very cold
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 cups fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, passion fruit pulp
  • Jarred lemon curd (optional), I get mine at trader joes

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trace a circle into parchment paper using a plate or a mixing bowl. Flip the parchment over onto a baking sheet (so you don't have a graphite meringue). 
  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
  "pencil on parchment", 2015

 "pencil on parchment", 2015

  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
  • Separate your eggs: use three bowls for this. One for cracking each egg into and separating over, one for transferring the clean whites to, and one for yolks. Trust, the worst thing is fucking the whole shebang up with yolk in the whites on egg number six. So do each egg over the little bowl first, so if you mess up the separating on one, you don't have to start from square one. There are lots of egg separating gadgets out there, and they are all a waste of money. Just use your (clean) hands to hold the yolk while keeping the white drain through. Done.
 sometimes the best tool is you.

sometimes the best tool is you.

  • Put the egg whites into the bowl of a mixer (or a large bowl if you are using a hands mixer). Add vinegar and salt to the egg whites, and beat on high until the eggs are light and fluffy, and when you raise the beater you have soft peaks (they slump over on themselves).

 action shot of meringue!

action shot of meringue!

  • While the mixer is running, add the sugar little by little, and sprinkle in the cornstarch in. Keep beating until the whites are stuff and glossy, and hold stiff peaks (no slumping). Don't overbeat or they'll get grainy. Stir in vanilla.
 Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

  • Mound your meringue into the center of the circle on the parchment paper, and use a spatula to nudge it to the edges, creating a shallow nest in the center to hold the cream and fruit.
 ready to bake, low and slow

ready to bake, low and slow

  • Put into oven and immdiately turn the heat down to 225 degrees (or 250). Bake a large pavlova 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn off oven and let cool completely in closed oven. (Don't open the door while cooking or cooling.) Bake individual pavlovas about 50 minutes before turning off the oven and letting cool completely. You can even leave that sucker in the shut oven overnight.
  • The meringue should be crispy on the outside and may possibly be a very pale gold. Use a big spatula to help you transfer the meringue off the parchment and on to a serving platter. It's pretty fragile, but it's OK if it cracks. Just reassemble it as much as possible on the platter. Be gentle and don't try to pick it up by the edges or something.
  • If you aren't topping and eating the pavlova that day, wrap the whole thing, platter and all in plastic and keep it OUT of the fridge.
  • When you  are ready to top it, Wash and slice your fruit. Defrost the passion fruit pulp if you're using it.  Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla together with a mixer (hand or stand), until it's softly whipped. Don't go for the super stiff whipped cream, you want dollops like clouds.
 like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

  • Assemble the pavlova: I plopped some lemon curd onto the meringue shell, then covered that with the whipped cream, leaving a border of meringue. Pile on the fruit, then drizzle the passion fruit pulp (which was more like passion fruit liquid) over top.  Slice like a cake and eat.
 right before we ate it all.

right before we ate it all.

Nots:  

  • If it totally crumbles while you are transferring, make Eton mess by layering the meringue pieces with whipped cream and fruit.
  • Individual pavlovas work beautifully and while slightly less impressive looking are more sturdy to transfer.
  • Sppoedly you can make the meringue well ahead, wrap well in plastic, and freeze for about two weeks. I've never frozen meringue before, so if you try it and it works, please tell me.
  • A topped pavlova will get soggy if left too long, and if it's humid your meringue might not be the crispest or may begin to weep sugar beads.