In our ‘Cake around the world’ series we take a global journey and look at cakes and bakes that have shaped our cultural and culinary landscape. Zoe Burmester will be ‘virtually’ globetrotting around the world looking at cake culture from Europe to Asia, the Caribbean and Middle East and sharing some of the world’s best loved cakes and bakes.
Today we’re heading over to Australia and New Zealand to learn more about the much-loved pavlova, followed by a delicious recipe complete with video tutorial so you can follow along and make your own! It’s over to Zoe Burmester, a.k.a. Sugar Street Studios.
Where did the pavlova originate – Australia or New Zealand?
The origins of the pavlova are something of a debate. While it’s widely accepted that this crisp billowing dessert with its marshmallow-like centre is named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to have originated the dessert during the ballerina’s tour of both countries in the 1920s.
The Australians claim that the pavlova was invented at a hotel in Perth when one diner claimed the dessert to be as ‘light as Pavlova’, while the Kiwi’s claim that a Wellington chef created the pud in honour of the prima ballerina and was inspired directly by her tutu.
But while we mainly identify the pavlova with our Antipodean cousins, in truth its origins can be traced back two whole centuries earlier to German speaking Europe where aristocratic kitchens were producing large meringue constructions filled with fruit and cream. As one digs deeper into the history of the pavlova, we also unravel that there were many desserts both in Russia and beyond that were also named ‘Pavlova’ before the mega star’s infamous 1926 tour.
So, while in truth neither country can probably lay claim to inventing pavlova as we know it today, it’s certainly true they’re considered national icons in these countries and are eaten throughout the year including their national days, both celebrated in January.
What time of year is it best to enjoy a pavlova?
For my part, there are two times of year that I associate with eating pavlova. One is in summer, when fresh berries and soft fruits (which go so well with meringue) are in abundance and the other is on Valentine’s Day. There is something about the combination of sweet crumbly meringue with its toffee-like chewy interior and decadent toppings which scream I LOVE YOU!
Red being the colour of Valentine’s, beautiful berries also lend themselves really well to the ‘lurve’ theme, roasted, soaked or purely naked. But my ‘lovers’ pavlova’ and the recipe I’m sharing here, is a riff on a black forest gateau – vanilla meringue topped with decadent dark chocolate and boozy black cherries.
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Valentine’s (lovers’) pavlova recipe
Watch the video tutorial to follow along and refer to the full recipe below!
Top tips before you start!
- Use a ratio of approx. 60g caster sugar per egg white (around 30g) if you’d like to scale up the recipe.
- A four-egg recipe is plenty for an intimate supper but you may want to extend to a six-egg recipe and an 8in circle when feeding 6-8. Or make miniatures… stored in air tight containers they can last up to two weeks or be frozen for a longer shelf life.
- Make sure your eggs are at room temperature as this will help them whisk to good height.
- Your mixing bowl must be scrupulously clean. A drop of fat or grease may affect how well your egg white whips up.
- Adding a tiny amount of cream of tartar will strengthen your egg white if you want extra stability in your pavlova.
- Take your time adding the sugar! You want a silky texture not a gritty one.
For the pavlova
- 4 large egg whites, organic and at room temperature
- 200g white caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or good quality extract)
- ¾ tbsp cornflour
Chocolate cherry topping
- 250ml double cream (room temperature)
- 100g dark chocolate (minimum 50% cocoa), melted
- 500g black cherries pitted (fresh or frozen)
- 240ml unsweetened cranberry juice
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Between 75-100g sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cherries)
- 80ml French brandy (optional)
- Fresh cherries for decoration
- Electric Whisk
- Baking sheet
- Baking paper
- Flat spatula
How to make the meringue
1. Preheat oven to 200C fan/220C electric oven. Prepare your baking sheet by drawing out a 6in circle onto greaseproof paper.
2. Whisk egg whites in a bowl with an electric attachment until stiff peaks form.
3. Slowly add the caster sugar one tbsp at a time, keeping the mixer running throughout. Don’t be tempted to cheat this stage! Once glossy and incorporated gradually, fold in the vanilla paste, cornflour and vinegar. You should have a very stiff and glossy meringue at this point.
4. Now spoon the mixture onto your pre-drawn circle and use a spatula to form your pavlova into a bulbous round shape, trying to stay inside the circle. The pavlova will expand as it cooks. Make sure you use the spatula to create a depression in the middle of your pavlova, this will help reduce cracking and will give you an area to place your topping.
5. Wipe away any excess meringue around the base of your meringue and place in the oven.
6. Immediately reduce the temperature to 100C fan/130C electric oven and bake for 1½ hours. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova inside the oven to cool for a couple of hours or overnight.
How to make the pavlova topping
7. Place the cherries, sugar, cranberry juice and brandy (if using) into a saucepan and cook on a medium heat until the juices have formed a thick syrup. Leave to cool.
8. Melt your chocolate in a double boiler and whip your cream into soft peaks. Set to one side.
How to assemble your Valentine’s pavlova
9. Gently peel the pavlova off the paper base and place on a plate or stand. Take the melted chocolate and criss cross the liquid chocolate, using a spoon over the top of the pavlova. Fold in the remaining chocolate to your cream and spoon over the top of the pavlova. Finally spoon over the boozy cherries allowing any juices to run over the side and top with fresh cherries if desired.
Pavlova is a wonderfully versatile dessert and I think this in part accounts for its enduring appeal, not only in Australia and New Zealand but all around the world. Here are some flavour combinations and topping ideas for alternative pavlovas:
- Vanilla pavlova with whipped cream, lemon curd and raspberries
- Coconut pavlova with coconut cream, lime curd, toasted coconut and pineapple
- Chocolate pavlova with coffee cream, Kahlua and grated chocolate
- Rosewater pavlova with strawberries, rose petals and pistachios
- Mini pavlovas with custard cream and rhubarb