Just as Australians and Brits argue over marmite versus vegemite, so the Australians and Kiwis argue over who invented the pavlova. It is a speciality of both countries but despite a lot of research by food historians, its still hard to pin point who first used the name. Legend is that the dessert was named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.
The dessert is a concoction of meringue and cream and fruit and is light and airy and crunchy and chewy and luxuriously wonderful. It is one of my favorite desserts and I usually ask my Mum to make it for me when I go home for a visit. It works well with raspberries, strawberries, mango, passionfruit and kiwi – and can therefore be adapted to whatever is seasonal or available. I have seen a Nigel Slater version with blackcurrants. I usually associate pavlova more with summer when raspberries and strawberries are in season but it works any time of year with tropical fruit. Yesterday when I wanted to make a pavlova to use up some of the egg whites left from our last batch of ice cream I called my mother for advice.
Warning – this recipe is much easier if you have an electric whisk or mixer. It also takes a lot of time, most of it waiting, but it certainly isn’t a last minute option. If you keep your eggs in the fridge you will probably need to start preparing a minimum of 4 hours before you want to serve but longer is better as you want to let the pavlova completely cool in the oven. The good news is that you can bake it ahead of time.
Recipe to serve 6. If you need to feed more people I would suggest making more than one pavlova. Making it any larger will make it difficult to fit on the baking sheet and harder to handle.
4 medium free range eggs at room temperature (this is equivalent to 4 fl oz of egg whites if you are using leftover egg whites or different sized eggs).
7 oz fine sugar (I used organic Florida cane sugar). If your sugar is too coarse you can whizz it in the food processor.
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
10 fl oz heavy cream (I used Snowville)
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp St. Germain liqueur (divided)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF
Line a baking tray with a silicon mat or baking parchment. It is much easier to slide the finished pavlova off if you have a flat baking sheet with no sides, or you can use a lipped one upside down. If you are using parchment (and/or if you like to be precise) you can draw a 9 inch circle to use as a guide.
Place the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
Seperate the eggs (unless you are using up leftover egg whites). Make sure they are room temperature or wait for an hour. Room temperature eggs will whisk to a greater volume.
Clean out your mixing bowl with a lemon slice and then wipe with a dry paper towel. This helps insure that there is no grease.
Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff enough to hold their shape (Kitchen Aid speed 8). Slowly whisk in the sugar 2 tbsp tablespoon at a time, adding a teaspoon of the cornstarch mix in between each addition (Kitchen Aid speed 4 or slower). When all of the sugar and cornstarch has been added the consistency of the mixture should be thick and marshmallowy.
Using a spatula turn the meringue mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it out into a 9 inch circle. It should be indented in the middle with higher walls around the edge, so that you can fill the center.
Put it into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 280-285ºF. Bake for an hour (I turned my oven off at 55 minutes). Do not open the oven while the pavlova is cooking OR when it is done. Turn off the oven and leave it to cool inside. This is very important to get the correct texture. The finished pavlova shell will be crunchy on the outside and marshmallowy in the center. You can make the meringue the night before and leave it in the oven all night. Unfilled the shell will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.
St Germain is an elderflower liqueur and it is sweet and floral. It went very well with the kiwi fruit. If you were using berries you might want to use crème de cassis instead. You can also fold in lemon curd into the whipped cream. There are a lot of possible fillings.
When the pavlova is cool transfer it to a serving dish. Slide the parchment/ silicon out from underneath. Be careful as it is very fragile.
Whip the cream (Kitchen Aid speed 8) until stiff and then stir in the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the liqueur. Spread the cream in the center hollow of the pavlova. It doesn’t have to be pretty, you are going to cover it with fruit. Just before you serve it, layer the sliced kiwi fruit on top of the cream and then drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of the liqueur on top.