I hope everyone has had a lovely Easter! This Easter has been a fairly relaxing time for us, a time when we we’ve been able to take advantage of the few days off work to slow down and take things easily. And when it comes to relaxed and stress-free meals, I often tend towards a pavlova for dessert.
This Aussie classic is essentially one large meringue, topped with lashings of whipped cream and decorated with fruit. Admittedly, it’s not a dessert you would indulge in everyday, but a serve of pavlova once in a while never hurt anyone. Plus, there’s fruit, so it must be good for you 😉 Although, we once had a guest who looked rather overwhelmed by the quantity of cream and sugar before him and, in a gesture which crushed my ego a little, declined dessert. Any feelings of pride I had as I ceremoniously brought the pavlova to the table were instantly deflated in this moment, but I quickly perked up when I realised it meant more for me and everyone else!
A pavlova, if you get it right, can be a very simple dessert to make. If we are having friends over for dinner, I simply make the pavlova first thing in the morning and then leave it unattended until just before serving when I will disappear into the kitchen to whip the cream and prepare the fruit topping. And considering that I always have a stash of egg whites in the freezer, a pavlova can be a fairly economical dessert.
Perhaps what some people find intimidating about making a pavlova is that it can be prone to failure. The secret lies in understanding the food science behind making a meringue. If you start adding the sugar before the egg whites have reached the stiff peak stage, or if you beat the egg whites for too long and are too far beyond the stiff peak stage, your meringue mixture will be soft and runny and won’t have hold its shape once on the baking tray. If you don’t properly incorporate the sugar until it dissolves, your pavlova may weep and fail to rise magnificently; it may even collapse. If you open the oven door too soon, the sudden change in temperature may also cause your pavlova to fall and crumble. Even making a pavlova in humid temperatures can be problematic.
All of the aforementioned has happened to me in my quest to master this dessert. But practice makes perfect, and once you get an idea of what the beaten egg whites should look and feel like before you add the sugar and the rest of the ingredients, making pavlova will become second nature to you.
In Australia and New Zealand, it is common to serve pavlova topped with all sorts of fruit – kiwi and banana is a popular combination from my childhood. And I know some insist on sprinkling over crushed bars of Peppermint Crisp. Lately, it has been en vogue to skip the fruit altogether and to up the sugar content by decorating the pavlova with toppings such as honeycomb and salted caramel sauce.
I prefer to use fruits which are somewhat tart to cut through the sweetness and richness of the dessert, so I often resort to fresh passionfruit, although raspberries and strawberries are also wonderful when they are in season. Once you start making pavlova as often as I do, you will find yourself experimenting with different fruits anyway, not least to give yourself an excuse to make a pavlova again and again.
When making a meringue or pavlova, using the egg whites of old eggs is preferable to those of really fresh eggs. What works really well are frozen egg whites. Simply freeze 2 or 3 egg whites per freezer bag for quick defrosting and let them come to room temperature before using.
Some people like their pavlova to be crisp on the outside with a slightly chewy centre. Others like their pavlova to be only slightly crisp on the outside, but soft and marshmallowy on the inside. I belong to the first group. If you fall into the latter group, bake your pavlova for only about 45 minutes to 1 hour, and leave it to cool in the oven for only a few hours.
Although a nicely domed pavlova looks lovely when naked and unadorned, it’s not very practical if you plan to cover it with whipped cream as it will simply run down the sides. So make sure the top of the pavlova is somewhat flattened before you put it in the oven.
If something goes wrong and your pavlova collapses into a flat pancake once cooled, don’t despair – your pavlova will still taste great. Simply crumble the pavlova into a large serving bowl, stir through the whipped cream and passionfruit and you will have something similar to an Eton Mess which is traditionally made with strawberries.
It’s normal if the top of your pavlova cracks as it cools. And don’t worry because you will be covering it with whipped cream anyway.
If you’re not sure what soft peaks, firm peaks or stiff peaks mean when it comes to beating egg whites, this guide might help you.
The cake stand used in the above photos is from Sophie Conran which you can purchase from her online shop. And if you enter the code eatlittlebird10 at the checkout, you will receive a 10% discount off your purchase Please see this post for more details.
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If you have made this dish, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #eatlittlebird