Do you have a favorite pavlova recipe?
Pavlovas are a magical food. A few pedestrian ingredients are transformed into something ethereal – and much, much more than the sum of its parts.
My mom was a somewhat typical midwestern cook and baker in the 70’s. She made meringue pies and gelatin desserts and all sorts of other fluffy concoctions. But I did not have a true pavlova until our (pre-kid) month-long trip to Australia and New Zealand. I think my very first bite was actually on the airplane en route.
My (tall) husband always requires the seat with the most leg room, so we were in the front row of a coach section, adjacent to a business class section on a behemoth plane. The lovely flight attendant took to chatting with us as she strapped into her jump seat across from us. Every time a dessert (or drink!) went untouched in her section, she subtly slid it onto our tray.
The flight to the other side of the world takes much of a day – so there were quite a few opportunities for meals to be served – and for treats to be shared. One of those was a pavlova. Since we weren’t actually sitting in Business Class (young, twenty-something teachers as we were), we didn’t have a menu, but weren’t picky and inhaled pretty much everything she gave us. I do remember grabbing her attention, however, to ask what that goodness was. A pavlova, she answered.
A ballet dancer from the age of three until twenty-three, I knew who Anna Pavlova was, but had no prior knowledge of her namesake dessert. Apparently the accomplished prima ballerina inspired this “light-as-a-feather” (or a dancer!) dessert during her tour of Australia and New Zealand during the 1920s. Today, both countries claim the dessert as their own, which means they were on many menus as we traveled the two countries.
Potluck Pavlova Recipe
Fast-forward a few years, and we have kids who are in schools that host international potlucks. Lucky us that several ex-pats from Down Under shared our kids’ schools over the years – allowing for plenty of opportunities to sample various versions – and to try different pavlova recipes at home.
I have made several different versions of pavlovas over the years, but I always come back to the core recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I have baked it in circles, in squares and, once, in a wreath shape (which I not-so-gracefully slid onto the tablecloth at Christmas brunch!). More often than not, though I prefer to make mini-pavlovas.
Single Serve Pavlova Recipe
While the cooked, but not topped, meringues can hold reasonably well at room temperature, the topped meringue will start to turn to mush if left too long. By making each pavlova single-serve, it allows each person to top their own just before they eat it. And individual servings also fit well into our world of porch drop-offs and distanced backyard gatherings.
A pavlova recipe is always gluten free – and if you skip the cream, it can be dairy free as well. This makes this delicious dessert all the more flexible when feeding a crew with varying dietary needs.
The most traditional version in New Zealand tops the meringue with sweetened, whipped cream and kiwi (try the yellow ones, if you can find them!). In Australia, the meringue and cream is more often topped with tropical fruits, such as passionfruit. I often serve with lemon (or lime or orange or cranberry) curd, or with whipped cream and whatever berry or stone fruit I can get my hands on.
You really can’t go wrong with a little magic.
Mini Pavlova Recipe
- Stand Mixer
- Baking Sheet
- Parchment Paper
- 4 large 120 grams egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup 200 grams superfine (castor) or regular sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch potato starch or arrowroot powder
- Preheat oven to 250°F (130°C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.
- In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
- Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar. Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Gently dollop the meringue onto the parchment paper in 6-8 round(ish) portions).
- Bake for about 45 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and rotate the pan.
- Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar (you can stick the handle of a wooden spoon in it so no one walks into it), 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.)
- Typically served with sweetened whipped cream and kiwi (New Zealand) or tropical fruits (Australia). When not available, serve with sweetened whipped cream, lemon curd, and/or fresh berries.