A classic pavlova is easy to make and tastes wonderful. It is a delicate and absolutely fantastic dessert, adaptable to all different kinds of fruits, and naturally gluten-free. With this swoon-worthy treat in your dessert repertoire, you’ll always impress family and guests. (Skip to recipe.)
What’s white and fluffy, light as a cloud, and tastes like it was baked by angels? What is a most fantastic dessert that’s impressive and beautiful to look at, but a breeze to make? What melts in your mouth like the lightest marshmallow and bursts with sweet, fruity flavour?
Why, a pavlova, of course!
This month for our Eat the World Recipe Challenge we travel ‘down under’ to New Zealand, that stunning green jewel set in the South Pacific Ocean. It’s a land of great contrasts and breathtaking scenic beauty: rugged snow-capped mountains, long sandy beaches, spectacular fjords, lush green valleys, brilliant glaciers, sparkling lakes . . . endowed with an abundant and unique diversity of flora and fauna. (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia series are just a few of the famous movies filmed there.) Mysticism and magic share this natural stage with a culture of outdoor pursuits and active living.
New Zealanders have inherited the nickname ‘Kiwis’ after the kiwi bird, whose only home is this archipelago in the southern hemisphere consisting of two main islands and hundreds of smaller ones. Not surprisingly, kiwifruits are another namesake of these islands. Originating in China (called Chinese gooseberries), they were brought to New Zealand in the early nineteen hundreds and became a commercially farmed fruit. In 1962, New Zealand began marketing them as kiwifruits, and the name has stuck.
New Zealand is also famous for something else.
This lovely confection, made of meringue, whipped cream, and fruit, called a pavlova.
There has been much dispute over whose dish it rightfully is: New Zealand’s or Australia’s. It was named after Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina who danced in both countries in the 1920s, and it started appearing in both countries shortly after that. So, who can claim ownership of the famous dessert?
I’ll go with New Zealand, too (sorry, Australia.)
I’ve been making pavlovas for years. My standard filling is lemon curd, whipped cream, and fruit. It’s our family’s favourite. But I’ve also made little individual coconut pavlovas and strawberry rhubarb pavlova layer cakes, not to mention versions with pomegranates, chocolate and raspberries, or mandarin oranges. Really, anything goes.
The beauty of a pavlova is that you can make the meringue base a day or two ahead, then add the whipped cream and fruit an hour or two ahead, leaving you free to enjoy your guests, then impress them when you bring out this stunning showstopper of a dessert (which was such a breeze to make).
Let’s get Making our Pavlova, Shall We?
Whip up the egg whites until they are thick, marshmallowy, and glossy. This will take some time, but you can go and do a crossword puzzle or dust something while you’re waiting.
Then plop them onto a circle drawn on the bottom side of a piece of parchment.
Smooth ’em into a disk and pop it into the oven.
Then you just wait.
And wait, and wait, and wait. You might as well go to bed and get some shut-eye while you’re waiting. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll pull your creation out of the oven and it may be full of cracks and crevices, but that’s okay. The beauty is in its rusticity. It’s the food of angels, so what does it matter what it looks like? (The toppings hide a multitude of sins anyway.)
Then whip up some cream. I’ve subbed out a bit of the cream and stirred in some Greek yogurt – YUM! It helps offset the sweetness of the meringue and makes this pavlova particularly delicious. Try it and you’ll see. Plop the cream onto the meringue. Put on some music and strew your choice of fruit over the top – if you dance around a bit and plop the morsels down in time to your melody you’ll be guaranteed a casually artful masterpiece.
Eat it right away, or hide it out of sight while you serve dinner, then bring it out to oohs and aahs of delight from the lucky recipients who get to eat your beautiful pavlova. They’ll swoon over the crispy outside and the marshmallowy inside, the billows of fluffy cream, and the bright fresh fruit on top.
Thank you, New Zealand.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Traditional pavlova uses only whipped cream under the fruit layer, but I’ve replaced some of the cream with Greek yogurt to make it lighter. The additional tang is especially lovely to help counteract the sweet meringue. You need to use the full amount of sugar, as that is what gives structure to the beaten egg whites and keeps them from collapsing. You can use a Greek yogurt with any percentage of milk fat you prefer. I usually use 2%, but higher or lower is fine.
Use any fresh fruit or berry you like, though softer fruits that are colourful are your best option. Kiwifruits, berries, mango, dollops of passionfruit; are all traditional.
Humidity can play a role in how your meringue turns out and how it keeps. Here in our dry Alberta climate, the meringue dries out with a nice crisp shell and soft marshmallow inside. I’ve kept it for two days, uncovered on the countertop, and it has stayed relatively unchanged – maybe just a little drier. In a more humid climate, it is best to keep the baked meringue stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. You can make it up to two days ahead, then fill it shortly before serving – up to several hours before serving if the outside of the meringue is nice and crispy.
For the meringue base:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (200gms) sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
For the topping:
- 1 cup (240ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled
- ½ cup (120ml) Greek yogurt (or omit the yogurt and use a total of 1¼ cups/300ml of whipping cream instead – that is the classic option, but the yogurt adds a lovely rich tang)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 kiwifruits and 1½ cups of strawberries, or about 2 cups of mixed berries, or any fruit of your choice
- a few mint leaves or thin strands of lemon zest for garnish – optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Draw an 8 inch (20cm) circle onto a piece of parchment paper with a pencil or black marker pen. Use a small plate or saucepan lid that is about that circumference for a tracer. Flip the parchment paper over so the circle is on the bottom and lay it onto a cookie sheet.
Whip the egg whites and salt to stiff peaks. Gradually add in the sugar, one tablespoon at time. Beat until it is very stiff and shiny and the sugar is completely dissolved and you can’t feel any sugar crystals when you rub a small amount of meringue between your fingertips. This will take at least 10 minutes of whipping. Beat in the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla.
Plop the meringue onto the parchment paper within the circle. If the parchment moves around to much, put a little dab of meringue under each corner to stick it to the pan. Use a spatula to spread the meringue gently to the edges of the circle. Shape it so it has relatively straight sides and a flat top; don’t worry too much about getting it perfect. A loose rustic shape with a few crags and waves makes for a more attractive pavlova. Try to keep the meringue to the size of the drawn circle though, as it will expand with baking to make about a 9 inch (24cm) disk.
Put the baking sheet into the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 225°F (110°C). Bake it for 1½ hours. Turn off the oven and don’t open the door. Leave the pavlova in the oven until it is cold, or overnight.
You can assemble the pavlova an hour or two before serving. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold in the Greek yogurt and vanilla. Spread this onto the top of the pavlova, bringing the cream almost to the edges of the meringue.
Peel and slice the kiwis, and halve or quarter the strawberries. Arrange the fruits on top of the cream in a pattern, or strew them atop with a random and casual elegance. Add a few mint leaves or lemon zest strands if you like.
Cut in wedges to serve. The pavlova is best served the same day (but leftovers the day after have never been sneezed at in our household.)
Serves 8. (But even if there are only 4 of you – you’ll want to make this pavlova anyway. I guarantee the rest of it will disappear like magic.)
Check out all the wonderful New Zealand dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
Evelyne: New Zealand Lolly Cake
Juli: Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
Camilla: Baked Fish Fritters + Wild Sauvignon
Amy: Kiwi Burger
Wendy: Kiwi Pavlova
Heather: Kiwi-Strawberry Trifle
Margaret: Classic Pavlova – lightened up
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Check out some of my other ‘Eat the World’ Recipe Challenge posts:
(in alphabetical order)
- Argentina: Red Chimichurri Sauce
- Australia: Anzac Biscuits (Crispy Oatmeal Cookies)
- Bangladesh: Chingri Masala (Shrimp Curry)
- Bulgaria: Patatnik (Savoury Potato and Cheese Pie)
- Cambodia: Noum Kong (Cambodian Rice Flour Doughnuts)
- China: Kung Pao Chicken
- Colombia: Pan de Yuca (Warm Cheese Buns)
- Egypt: Fava Beans and Feta
- England: Gluten Free Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas
- Ethiopia: Four Ethiopian Recipes for a Fantastic Feast
- Fiji: Spiced Sweet Potato and Banana Salad
- Finland: Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon, Potato, and Dill Soup)
- France: Axoa d’Espelette (A Simple Stew from the Basque Country)
- Georgia: Charkhlis Chogi (Beets with Sour Cherry Sauce)
- Greece: Moussaka
- Guyana: Fried Tilapia in Oil & Vinegar Sauce (fish dish)
- Hungary: Túrós Csusza (Pasta Scraps with Cottage Cheese)
- India: Kerala Upma (Fluffy, Kerala Style Breakfast Upma Recipe)
- Iraq: Tepsi Baytinijan (Eggplant & Meatball Casserole)
- Ireland: Dublin Coddle (A tasty Sausage and Potato Stew)
- Israel: Cucumber, Feta, and Watermelon Salad
- Jamaica: Rice and Peas (Coconut Rice and Red Beans)
- Japan: Chawanmushi (Steamed Savoury Egg Custard)
- Kenya: Maharagwe with Ugali (Red Beans with Cornmeal Slice)
- Laos: Ping Gai (Lao Grilled Chicken Wings)
- Lesotho: Chakalaka & Pap (Veggie & Bean Stew with Cornmeal Polenta)
- Luxembourg: Stäerzelen (Buckwheat Dumplings)
- Mexico: Cochinita Pibil Tacos (Pit Barbecued Pig to Make in Your Oven)
- Netherlands: Boerenkool Stamppot (Kale-Potato Mash with Sausages & Pears)
- New Zealand: Classic Pavlova
- Poland: Polish Honey Cake
- Portugal: Tuna and Sardine Pâtés
- Puerto Rico: Piña Colada Cocktail
- Scotland: Cranachan (Raspberry, Whisky & Oat Cream Parfaits)
- Senegal: Mafé (Beef and Peanut Stew)
- Sudan: Peanut Butter Creamed Spinach & Peanut Meringue Cookies
- Sweden: Swedish Meatballs with Cream Gravy
- Switzerland (Christmas): Basler Leckerli Cookies
- Thailand: Shrimp Laksa (Khung)
- Trinidad & Tobago: Peanut Butter Prunes
- Ukraine: Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
- United States (Soul Food): Smothered Pork Chops
- Uruguay: Torta de Fiambre (Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches)
- Vietnam: Caramelized Pork Rice Bowls