Pavlova

A year-round favorite in Australia and New Zealand, pavlova is part cake, part cloud – a giant meringue layered with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It’s equally good as a cool summer dessert or a light finish to a heavy winter’s meal. Gluten free – wheat free, even – it’s also the perfect cake for celiac patients or Passover bakers. Don’t be put off by the word meringue – this is easy to make, easy to make ahead, and spectacular to serve.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature (see notes for egg tips)
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated (or superfine) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 4 cups fresh fruit (berries, plums, peaches in warmer months; citrus, kiwi or pomegranate in cooler months; mango or passionfruit for a tropical touch)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (aluminum foil will also work, but it sticks to the meringue more than parchment does).
  2. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch into sugar. In a clean, dry mixing bowl (stainless steel or glass – not plastic), add egg whites, vinegar and pinch of salt. If egg whites are still cold, leave them out a few minutes before you begin. Use an electric mixer, starting at low speed for a minute then increasing to medium, to beat the egg whites until the foam forms soft peaks when you lift the mixer.
  3. Add vanilla to egg whites. Then add sugar mixture slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time, while continuing to beat the egg whites on high until glossy and thick. When you lift the mixer, the egg white on the beater should hold a peak that stays upright instead of drooping over. Stop to check frequently, as you don’t want to overbeat (the egg whites will get grainy and liquid will separate out again).
  4. Pour the egg white mixture onto the parchment paper, using a spatula to spread it gently into a circle 8-9 inches in diameter, with the top slightly depressed toward the center of the round.
  5. Bake the meringue for 1 hour (should be dry to the touch when done; try not to open the oven door during cooking). Turn off the oven and leave the pavlova in the oven to cool gradually for a couple of hours or overnight (gradual cooling reduces cracking of the meringue). If you are in a hurry you can prop the door ajar with a wooden spoon to bring the temperature down more quickly.
  6. Before serving, whip the cream until it holds firm peaks. You don’t need to sweeten the whipped cream – the meringue is sweet enough for both. But if you prefer it a little sweet, add a tablespoon of granulated or powdered sugar during beating as the cream starts to foam.
  7. Carefully remove the meringue from the parchment paper to a serving platter. Spread whipped cream over, then top with fresh fruit.

Serves 8.

Notes

  • Very fresh eggs are hard to foam; use older eggs for better results.
  • Cold eggs are easier to separate, so best to separate the whites from the yolks and then let them come to room temperature.
  • Separate eggs one at a time into two small bowls, one for a single egg white and one for accumulated egg yolks. After each successful separation, pour the egg white into the mixing bowl. If you botch one separation, just put that egg white and yolk aside for another use and start again with a new egg. That way you don’t ruin a whole batch of egg whites with one drop of yolk.
  • Use an eggshell to fish out any broken pieces of eggshell in your egg whites.
  • Do not use vinegar if mixing egg whites in a copper bowl (the acid reacts with the copper).
  • Meringues are very sensitive to moisture, so if the weather is wet or humid you may want to save pavlova making for a drier day.
  • The meringue base can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for a couple of days. If you live in a humid climate, store the meringue in the freezer.
  • You can also make several smaller meringues instead of one large one. This is especially useful if you don’t plan on eating the whole pavlova in one go – the meringues will keep well in an airtight container, and you can assemble them fresh with whipped cream and fruit as needed.
  • Larger version (6 eggs; 12 servings): 6 egg whites, 1 1/2 t vinegar, 1 cup sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 6 cups of fruit. Make a larger circle (10 inches) and bake for 75 minutes.
  • If your meringue is a fallen mess, or if you have leftover, there’s a lovely dessert for you called Eton mess: break the meringue into whipped cream, mix it together and layer it in cups with fruit. Can’t lose.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.