Saturday, May 26, 2012

Baker's Corner: Pavlova

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. It is made by beating egg whites to a very stiff consistency before folding in caster sugar, white vinegar, cornflour, vanilla essence and slow-baking the mixture (similar to a meringue). It is served with fresh cream and fruits. This dessert has a crisp crust and a soft, light interior. It is believed to have been created in honor of Anna either during or after one of her early tours to Australia and New Zealand. I've read that the nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years, but formal research indicates New Zealand as the source. 

The first time I saw someone make pavlova was on one of the earliest episodes of the British television show - Come Dine with Me. It seemed easy to make and it looked pretty interesting. Ever since I watched the show, I've always wanted to make it but never got around to it. Recently, I made up my mind to try it out for the first time after being put to shame by the talented kids of Junior Masterchef Australia who were effortlessly churning up the delectable dessert in a pavlova challenge. It turned out fantastic but it wasn't all smooth sailing as you will soon discover!

I must share with you some experiences of my pavlova (mis)adventure. I made two cardinal errors during my first attempt due to which I had to throw the whole batch away (boo...hoo!). I didn't separate the eggs carefully enough which resulted in a little egg yolk getting incorporated into the whites. And also, there was a teeny-tiny piece of eggshell in the egg white mixture that I overlooked and noticed only as the whisking process was going on. At the time, I didn't think that it was a big deal but 8-10 minutes into whisking, I realized that I wasn't going to see white peaks anytime soon in the future! The egg whites stubbornly remained a disappointingly bubbly mixture. I immediately rushed to my culinary agony aunt 'Google' to find out  what had gone wrong and then realized my folly. Well, what do you do? *Sighs* You make mistakes and then learn from them, right? So, I discarded the old batch, cleaned the whisking bowl and beaters thoroughly, dried them with paper towels, separated the eggs very carefully using an egg separator ensuring that no yolk or shell fragments fell in and let the egg whites stand for 20 min at room temperature before whisking. Thankfully, my patience paid off and the second batch turned out perfect! Within 5 mins, I saw the egg whites turn into glossy-stiff peaks. I was one happy baker! 

This is not exactly what I would call a perfect or dainty dessert. It will most likely have cracks in it (adds to the rustic charm!) and while slicing, it may fall apart a little and the fruits may go tumbling down. Don't worry about it. Just serve it in its messy state....the taste will more than compensate for it!

An Update: Since this post, I have made pavlova umpteen number of times and it has always been a smashing success. In the 'method' section, I have mentioned the different combinations of fruit that you can try


Preparation time: 30 min; Baking time: 90 min; Cooling time: 1 to 2 hours or overnight
Total time: Minimum 3 hours
Serves: 6
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe category: Dessert/Aus-NZ
Recipe source: Adapted from here


4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
200 gm castor sugar (the original recipe calls for 225gm of castor sugar but I have reduced it)
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 can whipped cream
For the topping - sliced strawberries, mango, passion fruit or a mixture of your favourite fruits
1 tbsp icing sugar
A few sprigs of mint for garnish

Note: Halving the ingredients in this recipe will yield 4 mini pavlovas. Reduce the baking time to 45min


1. Heat the oven to 180 deg C/fan. Cover the universal baking tray with a sheet of baking parchment. Draw a circle on the parchment paper using a pencil or pen  (one of 20cm in diameter or alternatively, two of 10cm each in diameter). Turn the paper over so the egg mixture doesn't come into contact with the marking.

2. Carefully separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites along with a pinch of salt using electric beaters until they just form soft peaks. This should take about 5-7 mins.

3. Gradually add the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time and whisk really well between each addition. When all of the sugar is used up continue whisking for 3-4 minutes or until the meringue is stiff and glossy and stands up in peaks. You know when it's done when you are able to invert the bowl upside down without anything dripping out!

4. Gently fold in the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla essence.

5. Spoon the mixture onto the baking parchment using a palette knife within the boundary of the marked circle or circles (you can make the top slightly indented with the back of a spoon for the fruits). Put in the centre of the oven, turn the temperature down to 120 deg C/fan and bake for 1½ hours.

6. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar and leave the meringue inside until completely cold (you can make this the day before and leave to cool overnight).

7. Carefully peel off the baking parchment and put the pavlova on a serving dish. Don't worry if there are cracks. Just before serving, gently spoon some sweetened whipped cream onto the top of the pavlova. Gently arrange the fruit on top of the whipped cream. Dust with a little icing sugar if desired, garnish with a few sprigs of mint and serve!

Some fruit combos I recommend:
  • A combination of fresh raspberries and blueberries 
  • Sliced strawberries, tossed with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp organic balsamic vinegar 
  • A combination of mango chunks and passion fruit 
  • A combination of mango chunks, kiwi chunks & fresh blueberries

  • Separate the eggs while they are still cold (easier to do) and let the egg whites sit at room temperature for about 15-30 mins so they are easier to whisk. 
  • Use an egg separator so that there is no yolk or egg shell in the mixture
  • The whisking bowl and beaters should be clean (free of grease/oil and water) and dry
  • The Pavlovas expand a little in the oven so leave some space around the edges or in between them (if you are making more than one) 
  • If you don't see the egg whites coming close to forming soft peaks within 4 to 5 minutes, something must be wrong! 
  • You can also make 8 mini pavlovas of 2.5 inch diameter each using this recipe. Just shorten the baking time to 45 min. 
  • Use fruits that are slightly tart (like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit or kiwi) since they work well to offset the sweetness of the  meringue. 


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