The Pavlova Meringue Cake: Serving Up A Slice of History

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on June 9, 2012

Meringue-type desserts are one of those things that are not often seen in the USA. I’m not talking about the occasional meringue topped pies that we are all familiar with…I’m talking about desserts such as the French dacquoise (pronounced da-kwa) and japonais (pronounced zha-po-nay) commonly used in European pastry shops. If you are not familiar with these, let me explain…

Europeans love their meringue and have created pastries that incorporate both soft and crispy types of meringues into their layered desserts for hundreds of years. The ones mentioned above are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and are generally made with finely ground almond and hazelnut flours. Throughout Europe, these types of meringues are used as cake layers instead of or in addition to the cake itself, and are filled with an assortment of different things like ganache, buttercream or jam fillings.

Another type of meringue called Vacherin (pronounced va-zhe-rin), is a crispier version that is used as a meringue shell in which ice cream is usually served, but I have also seen these crispy pieces used as decoration.

My point is that Europeans love their meringue, so it is not surprising to me that Australians do also. Australasia as it is now called is a melting pot of many different cultures, where different cuisines of all kinds are commonplace, highly regarded, well accepted and easy to find.

When it comes to the Pavlova, there is a great deal of contention between Australia and New Zealand as to who created it first. Many argue about the actual date of its creation and although both countries lay claim to it, much of the historical information points to New Zealand as the originator.

History buffs and culinary anthropologists suggest that the actual date of inception goes back as far as 1926, when Anna Pavlova the famous Russian ballerina visited Sydney on one of her dance tours. What we do know according to Keith Mahoney who was one of her biographers, suggests that a dessert called the Pavlova was created in mid 1920’s after the ballerina visited both Australia and New Zealand in her world dance tour…however, it is believed that the original Pavlova created for her was not a meringue based dessert at all, but a gelatin dessert of many different flavors.

So how did the name Pavlova get assigned to the meringue dessert?

Well, that is something we may never know…and perhaps we may also never find out where or when the meringue based dessert was created for the first time. Mathew Evans, a food critic for The Sydney Morning Herald says the truth may never be found since different variations of similar meringue desserts have been found in many cookbooks and magazines throughout history.

One thing I know is true…the Pavlova is the most popular dessert in Australia and New Zealand and is served at just about every function… So I say let’s forget about the controversy surrounding this exceptional treat and let’s start enjoying it right here in the USA!

This is a PERFECT Summer dessert…it’s light, airy, crunchy, gooey and soft…it hits so many textural points and the simple sweetness of the meringue allows the flavors of the fruit to shine through…you just can’t ask for more than that.

Plan your schedule around making the discs ahead of time and then decorate them right before service. If you put them together with the whipped cream too far in advance and refrigerate, the meringue will get soggy. So make sure to prepare the discs the day before and allow them to cool completely, then cover and store at room temperature until you are ready to put the cake together.

This recipe makes 1-10” meringue disc as I made, or you can make a taller 8” cake. If you make it taller, make sure to create a small well in the center to add in the whipped cream and fresh fruit.

One trick I will share with you to get that beautiful bake shop shine for your berries is to use some melted apple jelly. On the commercial side, concentrated apricot glazes are available but nothing similar to this is available to the home baker. The apple jelly is easy to find and works beautifully. Many people use red currant jelly, but I find that you don’t get the same lovely shine and it also does not hold the fruit together well because there is not that much pectin in red currants…the apple jelly works so much better, so make sure to use that instead.

Oh, and one more thing…did you know that the largest Pavlova ever made was 210 feet long? WOW…I’d like to see the bowl that whipped up that meringue!

Pavlova Meringue Cake
4 oz egg whites (about 4)
Pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar (about 9 oz)
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
2-3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup (or more according to your taste) of powdered sugar to sweeten whipped cream
1 tablespoon vanilla for whipped cream**optional
4-6 cups assorted berries or fruit of your choice
4-6 tablespoons apple jelly

First you need to decide if you are going to make this into a 10”disc or and 8” cake. Whatever size you choose, use a pencil to mark the outline of the chosen size on a piece of parchment paper. Turn the paper over and lay it in a half sheet pan, then set aside.

Add the egg whites with a pinch of salt and cream of tartar to a dry, clean bowl of your stand mixer. Using the whip attachment begin whipping the egg whites to create a French meringue.

Once they have become very frothy and starting to turn white, add the sugar ¼ cup at a time until it is all incorporated and has formed very stiff peaks. Next add the vinegar, vanilla and sifted cornstarch and continue beating until it is incorporated.

Pour this out onto your parchment paper with the outlined size of our choice and use an offset spatula to spread out the meringue. Bake this in a preheated 250°F oven for 1 hour, and then turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool completely before removing from the oven.

Once cooled, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla (if you are using it) to stiff peaks. Feel free to add more sugar if you prefer. Top the entire Pavlova with the whipped cream.

In the meantime, rinse your berries and set aside. Add the apple jelly to a microwave safe bowl and heat it until melted.

Toss this into the berries and add them on top of the whipped cream. The apple jelly gives that beautiful shine to the berries and is perfect to use here or if you are making fruit tarts. It seals and glazes the fruit beautifully.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Maria Springer/Maja's Kitchen June 9, 2012 at 5:09 p

Cat….what a wonderful post…..thank you…..and I listened to your chat on the radio show….you were wonderful….loved it!
Love and hugs to you………

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