So what’s Pavlova? It’s a baked meringue case — crispy on the outside with a soft marshmallow-like inside — filled with whipped cream and seasonal fruits. If you like a good story, you’ll find that the history of Pavlova has more twists and turns than novelist Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. According to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, Australians claim the dessert was created in 1935 by Herbert Sachse, an Australian chef, in Perth, Australia, in honor of the Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. The legendary dancer had visited Australia and New Zealand in 1926. The built-up sides of the meringue, to some, suggest the appearance of a tutu. Yeah, maybe.
Culinary anthropologist, Helen Leach, a professor at New Zealand’s University of Otago, has ferreted out more than 600 Pavlova recipes from over 300 sources and has written about it all in her book, "The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History." And guess what? There is no clear answer of the recipe’s origin. Some have even claimed the recipe originated in Germany, migrated to the United States, and was perfected here. Hmmm.
What is clear is this: Pavlova is a luscious dessert, and it deserves to be made right now to brighten up winter.
I learned how to make Pavlova from Elizabeth Germaine, a cookbook author and cooking teacher from Melbourne, Australia. She has made it for special occasions as long as she can remember in her home country, and she has continued to do so since moving to the United States more than 40 years ago.
The traditional fruits for a Pavlova are strawberries, bananas, kiwi and passion fruit. But passion fruit — deliciously tangy — doesn’t grow in Montana, so I use lemon curd, which serves the same purpose and is easy to make. For this recipe I opted for kiwi, orange slices, blueberries and raspberries to complement the lemon curd. But please feel free to include any fresh fruits you like. This colorful dessert is a showstopper.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Make the lemon curd first, days ahead if you want, and refrigerate it. You’ll use the yolks for the curd and the whites for the meringue case.
Makes a generous 1 cup
6 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Whisk the yolks and salt together in a small bowl until the yolks thicken a bit and look sticky, about 1 minute. Continue whisking, while gradually sprinkling in the sugar. When all the sugar is mixed in, whisk for a few minutes more until the yolks become thick and pale. (Note: You can do this step with a hand-held electric mixer). Whisk in the zest and lemon juice. Stir in the butter pieces.
Transfer everything to a heavy 1-quart non-reactive saucepan and set over medium low heat. Stir constantly with a heat resistant flexible spatula until the curd is the consistency of a thick cream, about 5 to 8 minutes. Be careful to not allow the curd to boil. Take the pan off the heat every now and then if necessary. When cooked, the curd should register a temperature of between 180 to 185 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Pass the curd through a strainer into a small bowl. Cool to room temperature, cover tightly and refrigerate. The curd will keep for about 1 week.
For the most voluminous, stiff meringue, make sure your mixing bowl and whip are scrupulously clean and free of grease. Australian and New Zealand bakers use caster sugar, a superfine granulated sugar. We have Baker’s Sugar, a brand of superfine sugar, in the United States. If it’s not available where you live, just use regular granulated sugar.
3/4 cup egg whites (6 large) cold or at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup Baker's Sugar or regular granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
To make the meringue, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Set an 8-inch round layer cake pan open side down onto a sheet of cooking parchment on a cookie sheet, and trace a circle around its rim with a pencil. Turn the parchment upside down and set it on the cookie sheet. Beat the whites with the salt on medium speed until they form soft peaks that droop at their tips when the beater is raised, about 2 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of the sugar and beat on medium speed until the sugar is dissolved and the whites resemble a thick marshmallow cream, about 2 minutes. While beating on medium speed, add the remaining 2/3 cup sugar in six installments (scant 2 tablespoons) beating about 30 seconds after each. Increase the speed to medium high and continue beating about 3 minutes, until the meringue stands in stiff, straight, unwavering peaks. Beat in the vanilla and vinegar.
Take small dabs of the meringue to "glue" the parchment corners to the cookie sheet. Scoop the remaining meringue onto the center of the outline and shape it with a metal spatula or spoon into a circle a little over 8 inches in diameter and about 2 1/2 inches tall. It’s OK if the case extends a bit beyond the outline. Smooth the top and sides with a narrow metal spatula. Using a soupspoon, form a 1-inch-deep depression in the center. The edge of the meringue case will be about 1 inch wide and the case sides will now be about 3 inches tall. Put the meringue into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until it is a very pale tan color. Turn off the oven, prop the door open and leave the meringue in the oven until it is completely cool, 2 to 3 hours. The meringue case may be baked hours ahead and left in the cool oven.
1 cup raspberries plus more for decoration
1 cup blueberries plus more for decoration
3 kiwi fruit, peeled and diced or sliced
3 navel oranges, rind removed and sectioned
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
To make the filling, have all the fruits ready. Combine 1 cup raspberries, 1 cup blueberries, two prepared kiwis, and two sectioned oranges in a large bowl. Reserve a few raspberries, blueberries, one prepared kiwi and one sectioned orange to decorate the Pavlova.
For the whipped cream, beat the cream with the confectioners' sugar and vanilla until very thick. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
Assemble the Pavlova just before serving. Set the meringue onto a dessert platter and spread the lemon curd, using it all, in the depression. Add the whipped cream to the fruit in the bowl, fold gently to combine, and spoon the fruit and cream over the lemon curd, piling it in the center. Decorate with the reserved fruit and bring your creation to the table. Accept all the oohs and ahs and cut the Pavlova into portions with a sharp knife. The cream and fruit will not stay put, but that is part of the dessert's charm.
Variation: You can substitute strawberries for the raspberries or use a combination of the two. Sliced bananas also are a nice addition. Diced mango is terrific. Well-drained pineapple chunks or canned apricots also are welcome in Pavlova.