Pavlovas are sweet and light as air. Simply delish!
It feels like everyone and their mother is making pavlova these days. I remember back in the 1970s, when my late sister Elizabeth first went to Australia to study and came back with a strange plastic egg-shaped dome – White Wings’ Pavlova Magic – which contained a packet of powdered egg white and gelatine.
Nobody I knew knew what a pavlova was then. And that plastic egg seemed truly magical. I was eight then, you must remember. Anyway, you just had to add water to the bottom half of the egg, and sugar to the top, mix everything together, and – voilà! – your pavlova was ready to go into the oven. Once it was out, all you had to do was fancy it up with your favourite fruit and make it as deliciously delectable as possible.
Back then I didn’t have anything to compare pavlova with, so the White Wings ready-made mix was perfect. Crisp on the outside, marshmallowy on the inside, the creamy confection was melt-in-the-mouth scrumptious. It was love at first bite.
I have since tried out many a pavlova, in Australia, New Zealand, America, and in Malaysia. Does it come from the land Down Under? Or was it Kiwi born? Does it really matter? One of the yummiest pavs I’ve tried came from right here in Kuala Lumpur, at a little deli in Plaza Damas, Sri Hartamas.
If you really are into the origins of things, according to abc.net.au, one Prof Helen Leach (a food historian from the University of Otago in New Zealand) found a recipe while collecting NZ-compiled recipe books from a 1933 “Rangiora Mothers” Union Cookery Book for a pavlova cake. The recipe has the same name, all the same ingredients, and has the correct method too.
Leach later found an even earlier recipe for a pavlova, dated 1929, in a NZ rural magazine. Ifood.tv says that the British Oxford dictionary has also now recognised New Zealand as the genuine place of origin of the pavlova cake.
I’m going to root for NZ as well (although I love Australia dearly) because I first learned how to make a pavlova from a New Zealander. Vanessa Ranson, my modern day pen friend, happens to live in Queensland presently, which confuses things a little. Regardless, her recipe is to die for. And the absolutely fantastic thing about it is that it ALWAYS comes out perfect. Why not have a go?
Note: This dessert is extremely rich and substantially high in calories (about 373 calories per serving), so you might want to reserve it for special occasions.
Vanessa’s top two tips for successful pavlova making:
1. All equipment must be free from fat or traces of fat. This is essential to ensure the egg whites beat properly. If not done, your end result may be a runny, chewy, gooey mess and you're better off throwing your mixture out and starting over. Remember, you MUST wash bowls, spoons, cups, beater attachments with hot soapy water to get rid of any fatty residue. Wipe them with vinegar just to be sure.
2. Add the sugar in small amounts. If you overload the mixture by adding too much at a time, it will vastly affect the outcome.
6 egg whites
1¼ cups caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 dessertspoon vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp water
Separate egg yolks from the whites one at a time so you don’t contaminate the entire bowl. NO traces of yolk allowed!
Repeat until you have six clean yolk-free egg whites. If you do get some yolk in the white, when you discard it, make sure you either use a fresh clean bowl or wash the one you were using to remove any traces of yolk. If your whites are uncontaminated, you already have a 50% chance of your pavlova not turning out.
Using an electric beater, beat whites until they form soft peaks (which means when you lift the beater, it will drag the whites into a little peak – watch this video. Vanessa says you're much better off over-beating a little than under-beating.)
Add caster sugar one teaspoon at a time and wait until lightly mixed into the whites before adding the next spoonful. This is the most time-consuming step, but it’s not worth taking any shortcuts if you want a good result.
Once all the sugar is added, keep beating until the sugar is dissolved. If you take a small blob of mixture and rub it between your fingers, and you can feel grittiness, the sugar hasn't dissolved properly.
Add cornflour to a clean dry cup. Next add the vanilla, then the vinegar. Mix these ingredients together and add a little water to get a nice smooth liquid. Try to get this step done quickly as you want to beat it into the egg white mixture as soon as possible.
Add the cornflour mixture gradually to the egg whites with the beater running. Try to add each addition into a different spot of the bowl. Beat in the cornflour mixture as quickly, efficiently and thoroughly as possible.
Place baking paper onto a flat thin non-stick baking tray. Then scoop out all of the pavlova mixture onto the centre of the paper. You can spread the mixture if you want to. (Vanessa piles the mixture up on top of itself into a high heap.) Form a circular shape and try to even out the height so that it's relatively level, then smoothen out the sides a little.
Bake at 150°C for 10 minutes. Remember to turn down the oven immediately after that time to 110°C and bake for a further 60 minutes. Otherwise, in Vanessa’s words, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!”
Once cooking time is complete, turn off the oven. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN (NOT NOW or at ANY other stage of the cooking). Leave to cool (mostly) in the oven. You can opt to crack open the oven door a little after half an hour and let the air out slowly, then pull out your pav after 10 to 15 minutes.
Once properly cooled, top with whipped cream and your favourite topping – mango and orange, or passionfruit/passionfruit syrup, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, and shavings of white chocolate, or vanilla-scented poached pears with a rich caramel sauce ... you can go as wildly sweet as you like!
Refrigerate for a couple of hours then serve chilled. It’s worth the wait!
DID YOU KNOW?
Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. The dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. Just which country created the lovely little dessert? The Trans-Tasman battle for who first made the pav still rages on 90 years later.
Te Papa, the national museum located in Wellington, New Zealand celebrated its birthday by creating Pavzilla, the world’s biggest Pavlova, in 1999. It was 19sqm and was cut by then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. In 2010, Chef Aaron Campbell of Kaiapoi broke that record when he made a 50sqm expanse of meringue in the shape of a rugby field. It was made with 10,000 egg whites and more than 600kg of sugar, and could feed 10,000 people.