Did pavlova originate in Australia or New Zealand? That is a pressing question in any competitive debate between the citizens of those two countries, but nobody seems to be able to settle it. We do know that variations of pavlova were popular in both places in the early part of the nineteenth century, well before its namesake, the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, performed there on both of her world tours in the 1920’s. The rest of the story is not so definitive. But let’s put aside unanswerable questions and eat.
I’ve often wondered why pavlova hasn’t caught on here in a big way—certainly it is part of every baker’s repertoire in Australia and New Zealand as well as in the U.K. Do we Americans balk at making meringue? A few years back, I proposed a recipe that required separating eggs to the food editor of a publication, and it was rejected on those grounds. “People just don’t want to deal with separating eggs.”
That was then. I think we’ve moved on. I still separate eggs the old fashioned way: crack the egg and toggle the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves over a bowl, letting the whites to dribble into the bowl. If you want bells and whistles, try this method on the Kitchn website. You may not be able to understand a word of the video, but the visuals tell the whole story. It is spectacularly fun to do!
I say, when it comes to pavlova the dessert, leave the arguments to the Aussies and the Kiwis. Here in America, let’s just eat it, shall we? And why wouldn’t we want to. It is as light as an arabesque, with a crisp shell and a slightly soft interior, the perfect receptacle for summer berries and whipped cream.
So today, if you need to make an impromptu dessert for your Fourth of July celebration, make a pavlova. It may not be traditional, but it is much less demanding than the standard patriotic summer layer cake or a pie. The ingredients are few and simple—a quick run to the market may be necessary if you are out of eggs or cream or berries, but you may just have everything at hand already.
I’ve posted more about making meringues HERE if you want a visual step-by-step. The main difference between a meringue as part of a cake batter and a meringue to be baked as a discrete dessert is in the fineness of the sugar you need to use. Since superfine sugar is not as readily available here as it is in the countries that pride themselves in meringue desserts (that is a story in itself), you must finely grind sugar in a food processor or blender. Coarser bits of granulated sugar tend to make the meringue “weep” with oozing bits of melted sugar, which are not so desirable in this dessert.
Pavlova with strawberries
Makes 1 9-inch cake
1 cup sugar
4 egg whites
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons sliced almonds
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Cut a piece of parchment to fit a baking sheet. With a pencil, draw a 9-inch circle in the center of the paper. Turn it over and place it on the baking sheet.
3. In a food processor, grind the sugar for 1 minute, or until very fine.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until the whites form soft peaks.
5. With the mixer on medium speed, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Turn the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes. Dip your index finger into the meringue and rub it between your finger and thumb. If it feels gritty, continue to beat for a minute more, or until it feels perfectly smooth between your fingers. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the vanilla.
6. Dip a finger into the meringue and dab the baking sheet under the four corners of the parchment to anchor the paper to the baking sheet. Spoon the meringue into the center of the circle. With the back of a spoon, spread it to make a 9-inch circle. Sprinkle all over with the almonds and bake for one hour, or until the meringue is crisp on the outside but still a little soft inside. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet. Transfer to a serving plate.
Baked meringue (see above)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced, or a combination of summer berries
A few mint leaves, for garnish
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream with the sugar until it forms soft peaks. Beat in the vanilla. Spread over the meringue. Top with strawberries and garnish with mint leaves.