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How to Make a Pavlova

The Basic Rule for Traditional Pavlova
and its Essential and Enhancing Ingredients

(Part 3 of The Origins and History of Pavlova)

by Douglas Muster

muster

Recipes for Traditional Pavlova

The appellation “traditional” is applied to a recipe only after a generation or more of cooks and diners discover that a prepared food someone had created, many years before, as an original, innovative formula of ingredients and method has become embedded in their family, regional or national cuisine. We can cite many examples of foods with the initial appellation, traditional— soups, cassoulets, breads, sausages, pasta forms, pastries, ... — and now, a relative newcomer, a meringue-based confection we call pavlova.

Among the many in the culinary literature, we have chosen three representative recipes of “Traditional Pavlova”. The recipes are given on the pages that follow. The first one, an Australian recipe, can be found at www.aussie-info.com. The second is at www.joyofbaking.com and the third is at www.pastrywiz.com. The first is used by Renata Webster. It is a bare-bones, simple recipe. The third recipe is by Jane Dunwell. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is a step-by-step, relatively comprehensive recipe with many photographs showing what the pavlova should look like at each individual step. The second recipe is by Stephanie Jaworski and is in the middle ground between the Webster and Dunwell recipes. They are all good, in different styles and cover the essentials of how to make a traditional pavlova. The ingredients in the recipes are collated in three side-by-side columns in the table that follows, entitled “A Comparison of Three Exemplar Recipes for Pavlova”.

In the table, the ingredients in each recipe are arranged so that they can be compared easily. There are two classes of ingredients in the recipes:

Essential ingredients: egg whites, superfine sugar, cornstarch, white vinegar, cream and soft fruits (especially, passionfruit); and

Enhancing ingredients: a pinch of salt and vanilla essence.

The essential ingredients are just that and, in these recipes, they are the cluster of ingredients that define a traditional pavlova uniquely. The enhancing ingredients are always optional but are usually included in a recipe in order to highlight — enhance — a particular characteristic of the finished food, such as, the seasoning, color, taste, flavor, texture, consistency, or other desirable characteristics or properties the cook wishes the finished food to have or to emphasize.

Each of these three recipes (and others in the culinary literature), suggest a basic rule which emphasizes the care that must be taken in making and baking the meringue, in particular, that the baking is done slowly in what the British call a cool oven (less than Gas Mark 1) in order to achieve crispness on the outside and a marshmallowy interior. The essential ingredients of a traditional pavlova are in the recipe below:

pavlova: a meringue-based dessert in the form of a cake whose essential ingredients are egg whites, superfine sugar, cornstarch, white vinegar, whipped cream and soft fruit (especially, passionfruit).

This definition characterizes the class of dessert confections which are recognized universally today as traditional pavlovas. In the table in which the three exemplar recipes are compared, the American English terms are used for the ingredients, for example, superfine sugar instead of castor sugar and cornstarch instead of cornflour. In addition, the recipes use U. S. measurement terms for temperature, weight and volume. The Webster recipe is a verbatim quotation from the recipe given at aussie-info.com. I have made pavlovas using the Jaworski recipe from and the Dunwell recipe; thus, I have taken the liberty of adapting them to my kitchen and needs. I trust that my editing has not changed the essential elements and thrust of either recipe. That, surely, was not my intent.

 

 

Concerning the ingredients in the three recipes:

In each recipe, the essential ingredients for the meringue are egg whites, superfine sugar, white vinegar and cornstarch with the enhancing ingredient of salt in two of the recipes, the Webster and the Dunwell recipe. In each case, the essential ingredients of the topping are whipping cream, vanilla extract and fruit. In the Webster recipe, the cream is listed as already whipped.

The quantities of three of the essential ingredients for the meringue (egg whites, superfine sugar and vinegar) in each of the three recipes are virtually identical, the quantity of the fourth essential ingredient (cornstarch) varies from 1⁄2 teaspoon in the Jaworski recipe to 4 teaspoons in the Dunwell recipe with Webster’s choice of 2 level teaspoons in the mid-range between these limiting values. This variance in the amount of cornstarch will affect the appearance (gloss) of the meringue and its texture, its “chewiness”, but, if the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, the magnitude of the variance should not affect the taste of the finished meringue. After baking/drying, the outside of the meringue should feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, and as it cools there will be a little cracking but, ideally, the inside should be soft and marshmallowy. The presence or absence of the relatively small quantities of salt in two of the recipes will not affect the meringues in any significant way. The toppings all contain the same essential ingredients of whipped cream, vanilla and fruit. The Jaworski recipe includes a bit of sugar in the whipped cream which will make it sweeter and more like Chantilly crème, but that is a matter of taste, nothing more. The Webster recipe does not specify a required amount of whipped cream, but I presume that it would be about the same as the other two.

Concerning the methods in the three recipes:

The method details vary; Webster and Jaworski use a spoon to create and shape the meringue

PAVLOVA by Renata Webster: www.aussie-info.com

In 1935, the chef of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia, Herbert Sachse, created the pavlova to celebrate the visit of the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.† Whilst it has been suggested this dessert was created in New Zealand, it has become recognized as a popular Australian dish.

Traditional Pavlova

  • 4-6 Egg whites
  • 1 tsp White vinegar
  • pinch Salt
  • ½ tsp Vanilla essence
  • 8oz Castor sugar/sugar (equal parts
  • 2 level tsp Cornflour

Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C). Lightly grease oven tray, line with baking paper or use non-stick cooking spray.

Beat the whites of eggs with a pinch of salt until stiff (until peaks form). Continue beating, gradually adding sugar, vinegar and vanilla, until of thick consistency. Lightly fold in cornstarch.

Pile mixture into circular shape, making hollow in centre for filling. (Mixture will swell during cooking) Electric oven: turn oven to 250° F (130° C) and bake undisturbed for 1 ½ hours. Gas oven: bake at 400° F (200° C) for ten minutes, then turn oven to 250° F (130° C) and bake a further hour. Turn oven off, leave pavlova in oven until cool.

Top the pavlova with whipped cream and decorate it with fruit as desired. Castor sugar/superfine sugar Cornflour/cornstarch

PAVLOVA by Stephanie Jaworski: www.joyofbaking.com

For the meringue cake:

  • 4 Large egg whites
  • 1 cup Superfine (castor) sugar
  • 1 tsp White vinegar
  • ½ Tbs Cornstarch (corn flour)

For the topping:

  • 1 cup Heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ½ Tbs Granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp Pure vanilla extract
  • Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or the fruit of your choice

Preheat the oven to 250° F and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7 inch circle on the paper.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the superfine sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. (Test to see if the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger. The meringue should feel smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers). Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, fold it in.

Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)

Bake the meringue for 1¼ hours or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)

The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container.

Just before serving, place the meringue gently on a serving plate. Whip the cream in your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. Sweeten the whipped cream with the sugar and vanilla; then, mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours. Serves 6 to 8.

Sources: The Australian Women’s Weekly, “Sweet Old-fashioned Favourites”; Mary Berry’s Desserts and Confections; Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess; Aaron Maree’s 100 Fabulous Cakes and Tortes.

FRUIT PAVLOVA Step-by-step Cake Decorating Instructions by Guest Chef Jane Dunwell
Adapted from her recipe, with photographs, at www.pastrywiz.com.The text of the recipe given here has been revised to accommodate to the absence of photographs.

  • 4 Egg whites or use the equivalent egg-white meringue powder
  • ¼tsp Salt
  • 8 oz Superfine sugar
  • 4 tsp Cornstarch
  • 2 tsp White wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Whipping cream
  • Fresh ripe strawberries Green seedless grapes (preferably, Moscato†) Mint leaves, chopped

If you cannot find Moscato grapes, use green seedless grapes that have been halved lengthwise and immersed in warm Muscat wine overnight.

Preheat the oven to 215° F. This may be difficult to do, so check the temperature in the oven with a thermometer.

PREPARING THE MERINGUE:

Separate the eggs very carefully and keep the whites OR use egg-white meringue powder. Place the egg whites in a copper bowl. OR Reconstitute the egg white with cold water as per the instructions, let it rest for at least 30 minutes in order to ensure that all the powder has dissolved and, then, continue as if you were using fresh egg whites. Measure out a ¼ tsp of salt and add it to the egg whites. Whisk until the mixture is white and slightly fluffy. Add the sugar gradually to the bowl. Whisk the mixture until very stiff and peaky. Whisk in the cornstarch, the vinegar and, finally, a ¼ tsp of vanilla extract. Give the mixture a final turn.

PIPING THE MERINGUE (SEE NOTE 1):

At this point, you will need a pastry bag with a large star-tube and a baking tray covered with a piece of baking parchment.

Add the star tube to the pastry bag. Fill the bag half full, twist the top closed and point the tube into the center of the tray. Give the back of the pastry bag a gentle squeeze and start to pipe an ever increasing spiral. Stop when you have the size of circle you think you need (usually, about 9 inches in diameter).

Pipe a circle of stars around the periphery of the circular, plate-like base you have created.

Pipe another circle of stars on top of the last circle. This creates a bowl shape that will contain the filling later.

Place the meringue “bowl” in an oven set at 215° F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the meringue to cool inside the oven, preferably overnight. Cooling the “bowl” slowly will help prevent the meringue from cracking.

At this point, the meringue can be stored inside an airtight container where it will keep for 3 to 4 weeks.

Filling the Meringue Bowl:

Tip: Moisture from the cream will soften the meringue so keep the time between filling with cream and eating to a minimum, if this is not possible, melted chocolate can be brushed onto the top of the meringue and this will act as a waterproof layer giving a longer life to the meringue base once it is filled with cream.

Gather the ingredients for the filling. You can choose any fruits and fillings that you like. Jane Dunwell chose seedless, Moscato† grapes, strawberries and double cream.

Cut off the tops of the strawberries, slice and halve several of them. Set aside a few whole strawberries.

Clean the mixing bowl and add the double cream. Whisk the cream until it becomes stiff. Be careful not to over-whip the cream or you will end up with butter. Scoop the cream into the meringue “bowl” you created until you feel you have filled it. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the cream into the edges.

Garnish with fruit

Using the sliced strawberries, start near the edge of the meringue and follow it until you close the circle. Inside this first strawberry circle place another circle but this time use halved strawberries. Fill in the middle with the whole strawberries.

Cut the Moscato grapes† into halves. Add them (flat-side down) where your artistic eye feels they should go. To finish off, add some chopped mint leaves.

Note 1: François Pierre de la Varenne (1615 - 1678) was one of the great chefs and culinary writers of the seventeenth century. His book, Le Cuisinier Fran çois, 1651, signaled the end of Medieval French cooking and the beginning of a new haute cuisine. In his book, he called for the first use of the pastry bag in creating exotic shapes with meringue.

Note 2: In 1935, Herbert Sachse, the chef of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia, created the first pavlova, in memory of the visits of the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, the most celebrated dancer of her time.

About Anna Pavlova: She was born on January 31, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia and died on January 23, 1931, at Den Hague, The Netherlands. Pavlova studied at the Imperial School of Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre from 1891,joined the Imperial Ballet in 1899 and became a prima ballerina in 1906. After 1913, she danced with her own independent company all over the world.

A COMPARISON OF THREE EXEMPLAR RECIPES FOR PAVLOVA

WEBSTER
JAWORSKI

DUNWELL

For the meringue cake:
For the meringue cake:
For the meringue cake:
4 - 6 egg whites 4 large egg whites 4 egg whites of use the equivalent egg-white meringue powder
8 oz * Superfine sugar/sugar (equal parts) 1 cup* Superfine sugar

8 oz* Superfine sugar

 

1 tsp White vinegar 1 tsp White vinegar 2 tsp White vinegar
2 level tsp Cornstarch 1/2 Tbs Cornstarch 4 tsp Cornstarch
1 pinch salt   1/4 tsp Salt

For the topping:

For the topping:

For the topping:
Whipped cream 1 cup Heavy whipping cream 1 cup Whipping cream
  1-1/2 Tbs Granulated white sugar  
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract 1 tsp Vanilla 1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
Fruit Fresh Fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passionfruit, peaches, pineapple, or the fruit of your choice Fresh ripe strawberries, green seedless grape, fresh flower blossoms, or chopped mint leaves

1 level cup of sugar weighs about 7.5 oz.

into a shallow-bowl-like shape. Dunwell builds and shapes her shallow-bowl-like shape by using a pastry bag with a star-shaped orifice (see Note 1 in the Jane Dunwell recipe, page 7). The results will be the essentially same structurally, but their æsthetic qualities will depend largely upon the sculpturing skills of the cook.

In sum: Insofar as I can see, the ingredients and methods used in the three recipes are the same in all material respects. The dryness of the meringue in a pavlova is a matter of individual taste. Some people prefer chewy, rather than dry, meringues; others do not. I reviewed the three recipes in detail and, except for a difference in the amount of cornstarch which would affect the gloss and “chewiness” of the meringue, but not the taste, I can find no significant difference between the three recipes.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Internet and posed the query to Google, “Pavlova: pastry manufacturers”. It came back with 1110 hits which surprised me a bit. I scanned the list; a good share of the hits were in Australia, a lesser number were in New Zealand and some of them appear to be duplicates. My wife and I visited Australia, in the eighties and nineties and we shopped often in the supermarkets — primarily in the eastern and southern states and in the A.C.T., in a big arc from Cairns to Adelaide. Virtually all of them sold ready-made meringues for pavlovas, big and little. They seemed to be available everywhere, for those who chose not to make their own. I am sure it can be argued that home-made pavlovas will be superior to factory-made pavlovas; nevertheless, they were everywhere and, I presume, they still are.

Closure

In closing, the recipes for the three Traditional Pavlovas cited here are offered as exemplars only. They follow a basic rule and contain the same essential ingredients. They are representative and typical, but they are not offered as unique and inviolate standards. There are many other recipes for traditional pavlova with the same essential ingredients, some with wildly divergent enhancing ingredients — try the latter, if you are inclined to be venturesome. No recipes in this category are given here. The recipe for a Traditional Pavlova I favor is that by Jane Dunwell, primarily because, using a pastry bag gives you more control over the shape and condition of the finished meringue cake, the structural and textural heart of a proper pavlova. Thank you, Lady Elinor Fettiplace for the seminal invention of meringue — although you called it “white bisket bread” — and Lady Rachel Fane for your “pets” and François Massialot for giving it the name, meringue, by which we know it today, and Gasparini for contributing to the lore and legend of cookery. All of these antecedent events made it possible for Herbert Sachse and his confrères in the Antipodes to create the delightful, derivative confection, the pav. Thank you, Jane Dunwell, Stephanie Jaworski, Glen Ralph, Margaret Walker and Renata Webster.

 

In my view, history has closed the argument concerning the origins of the pavlova. The seminal invention of meringue, whether it was by Lady Elinor Fettiplace or some unremembered cook, in the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, was the direct antecedent of the derivative invention, in 1935, by Herbert Sachse of a cake whose essential ingredients were those of a meringue plus whipped cream and soft fruit. By 1957, the recipe for the Sachse pavlova was being called traditional. The Davis trifle-like, gelatin-based dessert and some of the meringue-based confections created in the kitchens of Australian and New Zealand cooks, in the 1920s and 1930s, may still be called pavlovas by some, but a “Traditional Pavlova” is characterized by a basic rule that includes a unique combination of ingredients and method whose essence is captured in the definition:

pavlova: a meringue-based dessert in the form of a cake, whose basic ingredients are egg whites, superfine sugar, cornstarch, white vinegar, whipped cream and soft fruit (especially, passionfruit).

Please read part one the origins of pavlova and part two the origins of meringue

and the original articles:first pavlova article
a history of the pavlova
the debate rages on...

 

 

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