Russian Empire ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th century, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)is widely regarded as one of the finest classical ballet dancers in history and was most noted as a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev.
Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer. The dessert is believed to have been created in honor of the dancer either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in 1926. It is a meringue dessert with a crisp crust and marshmallow-like soft, light center, as light as tulle tutu Anna Pavlova wore during her performances. The dessert is pronounced ‘pævˈloʊvə or pɑːvˈloʊvə’, unlike the name of the dancer, which was ‘pɑːvləvə or pævləvə’.
The origin of pavlova dessert has been a source of argument between New Zealand and Australia for many years, but formal research indicates New Zealand as the source. The best tasting and tallest pavlova by far I had was at hangi/feast at the Tamaki Heritage Experience in Tauranga, New Zealand!
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) may have settled a long-running argument between Australia and New Zealand over who invented the pavlova. “Pavlova created in New Zealand not Australia”, OED ruled.
The dessert is a popular dish and an important part of the national cuisine of both countries, and with its simple recipe, is frequently served during celebratory and holiday meals.
Essential ingredients = egg whites, caster sugar, cornstarch and white vinegar.
Enhancing ingredients = a pinch of salt and vanilla essence
When the meringue is baked and cooled, it is topped whip-cream and soft fruits, i.e. passion fruit, mango, berries, kiwi, peach, pineapple, fruit compote, etc. If sliced banana is used, toss it in lemon juice to avoid from browning.
The major difference between the pavlova and a large meringue is the addition of corn flour, which results in the pavlova having a crisp/crunchy outer shell, and a soft, moist marshmallow-like center, unlike meringue which is usually solid throughout. The consistency also makes the pavlova significantly more fragile than meringue. Because pavlova is notorious for deflating if exposed to cold air, when cooking is complete it is left in the oven to fully cool down before the oven door is opened.
Things to know before starting to prepare pavlova:
- A basic pavlova meringue contains 1/4 cup caster sugar for every 1 egg white.
- The addition of cornstarch and vinegar helps create a soft marshmallow-like centre and a crisp crust.
- Eggs must be at room temperature
- Electric beater’s beaters and bowl must be absolutely clean; any grease or moisture will stop the egg-whites from aerating.
- Undissolved sugar causes ‘weeping’ (when moisture forms on the meringue) so if the mixture is grainy, continue beating. It could also mean too much sugar, over-beating, or not enough baking. Cook a little longer on humid days.
- If you remove the meringue from the oven when it’s still warm, it will cool too quickly, and may crack and collapse. (Cracking is normal, don’t worry. Cover it with whipped cream and fruit decoration.)
- Crystallisation means over-baking.
- If pavlova is not marshmallow-like inside, means it has been over-baked or wasn’t thick enough. Foamed egg white is a self-insulator, when the outside cooks it stops the heat penetrating the middle.
- Best to make pavlova at night for overnight cooling process.
- If caster sugar is not sold in your neighborhood, grind same amount of granulated sugar in a food processor for 5 minutes.
6 large egg-whites at room temperature
1 pinch salt
1 ¼ cup caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla
2 ¼ tsp cornstarch/corn flour
1¼ tsp distilled white vinegar
- Place rack on middle oven shelf and preheat oven to 375F/190C
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Draw a 7”/18cm diameter circle on center of the parchment paper, turn the parchment paper over so the circle is on the reverse side, and set aside.
- Separate egg-white from yolk carefully (watch for no egg-shells or egg-yolks in the whites).
- Measure out the ingredients before you start beating the egg-whites so you don’t have to stop beating.
- Gradually sprinkle sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, occasionally scraping down the side of the bowl (~8 minutes).
- Once all sugar is added, add vanilla, beat for 2-3 minutes or until mixture is thick and glossy.
- Rub little bit of meringue mixture between your fingers and if not gritty, sugar is well-dissolved and ready for the next step.
- While beating, sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and beat for 5 more seconds and stop.
- Spoon the mixture on top of each spoonful onto the circle on the parchment paper.
- Use a palette knife or back of a big spoon to draw the meringue mixture upward or a bit slant around the edge to create decorative markings around the sides, and flatten the top. (This will help support the sides of pavlova, and prevent it from cracking too much and collapsing. Fingers crossed).
- Put in oven, lower heat to 200F/90C and bake for 70 min (no more). DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!
- After baking meringue for 70 min, turn off the oven. Leave meringue in oven for 6 hours or over-night to cool completely. Again, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!
- When carefully removed from oven, cover with a dome and put in refrigerator until ready to use.
When ready to serve:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1Tbsp powdered sugar
- Beat cream and sugar, as it is getting harder add rosewater and continue beating until stiff.
- Spread on top of meringue and decorate with chilled soft fruits of your choice (best in bite size).
Almond Pavlova – by Nat of Bake Slave
Anna Pavlova travelling Australia, New Zealand and Canada
Anna Pavlova in her signature ballet (filmed in 1925), The Dying Swan, choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905.