The Australian pavlova… the one dessert I never got enough of, while overseas, and never had a lesson in, until the very end of my time there. As a result, when I try to make it here in the U.S., I start consulting multiple recipes and quizzing all my friends for their opinions on how to make it. Remember, Aussies have slightly different ingredients AND measurements than Americans, so nothing I do here will be exactly like we did there.
My impression, after multiple discussions with friends, is that every Aussie has their own perfect way of making one… or they admit defeat, and don’t make it at all. Maybe it always falls flat (though I don’t even know how that works, yet), or maybe they’re half American, so they were raised on a different combination of desserts. But another friend insists that there is no wrong way to make a pav. So, obviously, it takes all types to make a world. Even in Oz.
For my birthday, I decided it was time to make another attempt at pavlova. Not that anything was wrong with the last one, except technically, it wasn’t pavlova. They do say that it has to have cornstarch (cornflour, if you’re an Aussie) in it, to make it a pav. But as I’ve done more reading on the subject of the ins and outs of pavlovas, maybe it really was one, after all. The difference between a meringue and a pavlova is supposed to be that a pav is hard and crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y soft on the inside, while meringue is hard throughout. So, last time, I thought I did, and then I thought I didn’t… and now I think I did make one, after all. : )
If you are already looking for the recipe, I haven’t written it yet, so I think I’ll include it at the very end. So, if that’s all you want, scroll straight to the bottom of this page. You see, as I said, I was working from two recipes, tons of online advice, suggestions from my mom, and a little intuition thrown in. In addition, I had to translate the temperatures and measurements, too.
My original recipe, which my friend Imogen sent home with me, was printed off of taste.com.au, and is listed as a “Traditional Pavlova Recipe”. It doesn’t call for cornflour. For my second recipe, she e-mailed me the link to aussie.info.com. I did lots of flipping back and forth from one to the other, trying to decide what to do.
One problem is that Aussies use caster sugar (Americans don’t have this, except perhaps in a specialty store), which seems to be like granulated sugar that’s been blended slightly finer, but not as fine as icing sugar. In the end, we picked up a box of 4x confectioner’s sugar, which is probably too fine, but who cares? It’ll blend nicely into the egg whites, and it’s sugar. Adapt to the ingredients you have, especially if you’re too lazy to blend the sugar in the food processor.
When I began to dig out the ingredients, I practically had to climb into the cupboard, trying to find the cream of tartar, which was hiding in a small container,behind everything else. One recipe calls for it, and the other does not. One recipe explains that cream of tartar helps increase the volume of the egg whites, and gives the pavlova a crunchier crust. So, I thought, it’ll probably help, so I included it.
Remembering that I hadn’t messed it up the first time, so I couldn’t really ruin it this time, unless I did something completely ridiculous, I began my pavlova. I’ve never had any trouble with separating egg whites from egg yolks, so I quickly did that, and threw them in the mixing bowl. By the way, one recipe called for 6 egg whites, the other for 4-6. I think the 4-6 one was tailored more towards 4, so the measurements were a bit different. I went with six, and decided I’d swing with it. One recipe called for a pinch of salt, the other for a pinch of cream of tartar, so I used both.
My first recipe has my friend’s handwritten note that “Typically, in most Aussie pavs, you would use 1/4 cup caster sugar for every egg white – beat until no longer grainy”. So, it’s likely that their caster sugar is grainier than my powdered sugar, and you have to stir longer. And those cups mentioned are in Aussie measures, so I figured my 1 1/2 cups of sugar would work nicely with my 6 eggs. No, wait, one recipe called for 8 ounces of it… so I may have gone with that. Either works. I gradually added the sugar, vanilla, and white vinegar, though I think I saved the vanilla for the very end. It doesn’t really seem like vinegar and vanilla would go together.
Recipe #2 says to lightly fold in the cornstarch. This is where I needed a lesson on folding, from my mom, because I’ve rarely done any recipe that calls for it. The idea of gently stirring, in order to keep it from deflating, strikes me as very odd, but then, I’m using to stirring cookie dough. So, very carefully, I folded in the cornstarch, wondering what would happen if I stirred it too hard. Would it just evaporate before my eyes? That must be what my friend meant about it “falling”.
Also, in Australia, with no everyone having air-conditioning or insulation in their homes, I’m guessing that some of the issues may come with the fluctuation of temperatures inside the house. Even when our AC isn’t running, the house takes a while to change temp, so there isn’t usually any trouble with cooking projects reacting to heat and humidity.
Once the egg whites were ready, I put parchment paper on my cookie sheet, so that I could easily move it to a decorative plate, later. The first time, I didn’t do very well at getting the mixture in a circle, and hollowing it out to make room for the whipped cream. Of course, that time, I overwhipped the cream, so there wasn’t as much of it. But this time, I kept my circle smaller and piled it higher, in order to make a deeper hollow inside. And wished I knew, in detail (with pics), how my friends do it, and what it looks like when they’re making it. : ) Recipe #1 also calls for making “furrows” up the sides. I’m still working on that part.
After much debate over the oven temperatures and timing, we put it into our convection oven. If you have a gas oven, the recipes call for starting with 400°F, and then dropping it to 250°F after ten minutes, and then baking for an hour. I see now that my first recipe calls for even lower temps. But if you have an electric oven, you start it at 250°F and bake for 1.5 hours. Final notation says that if you have a fan-forced oven (convection), then you “adjust accordingly”. Great, so we make it up as we go along. Eventually, we settled on preheating to 250°F, then dropping it to 235°, and baked it for an hour.
Though it was completely done, the outside of the pavlova wasn’t as crispy as it should’ve been, and the inside a bit soft, so I think I’ll bake it longer, next time. My brother has volunteered to eat any more than I want to make, for practice. : )
When it’s baked, you turn off the oven, leave the oven partially ajar, and let the pav cool in the oven. I believe this is because if it gets cool TOO suddenly, it will fall. So, another case of possible “falling” that I have yet to experience, so I’m not quite sure what it would look like, if it did.
After the pav was almost cool, I brought it out of the oven to finish cooling, transferred it to a pretty plate, and cut off the excess parchment paper. It moved very easily, with the paper under it. Then, I prepared to make the whipped cream. The recipe calls for 300 mLs of thickened cream, so I used a pint of heavy whipping cream (which is ~470 mLs, I think). This time, I measured it out, but next time, I’ll just use the whole container, because you can’t have too much whipped cream. Also, I need to mix it slightly less, so it will be a little softer.
Recipe #2 doesn’t have any description of how to make the whipped cream, so I ran with what recipe #1 said. I beat the cream, 1 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar, and 1 tsp of vanilla together. Then, I carefully filled my pavlova, spread it evenly, and decorated it with blueberries and strawberries. We forgot to get a kiwi, or we would have added that, too. And I don’t know if you can even get passionfruit, here in the U.S. (it would probably cost a LOT), so that couldn’t be included. But I’ve seen pictures of pavs with pomegranate seeds on top, too. Raspberries would probably be marvelous, as well.
In the end, the pavlova looked beautiful. So, on to the taste test. When I cut the first slice, I found that the outer crust was softer than last time, and gave no resistance to the spatula. It didn’t hold together very well on the plate, either, so I had trouble getting any photos that didn’t look like a pile of white fluff. My family were all surprised at how light it is, like dining on air, and eating more than one piece didn’t feel like overeating. But despite any criticism that I make of it, with the intention of improving the next one, I think it was delicious, too.
I love how the sweetness of the pavlova, which really is almost the consistency of a marshmallow on the inside, contrasts with the whipped cream. You don’t have to put sugar in the whipped cream, but if you do, there’s so very little, that you just taste creamy wonderfulness in it. And the fruit gives it a punch of flavor, unlike the sweetness and cream of the rest. And getting the crunchiness into the outside of the pav is my goal for next time.
But again, six of us polished off the whole thing in a matter of minutes. And as we joked, if you’ve met my brother, he doesn’t eat four slices of any dessert, just to be polite. And though it was suggested that I could make lemon meringue or key lime pie next, I’m afraid I shot down that idea, because I’ve never liked either desserts, particularly. Oh, I try them now and then, but I’m not a big fan of lemon or lime in desserts, I’m not exactly sure why.
So, thanks for staying with me for this whole extended description of my latest baking expedition. This is what my compilation pavlova recipe would end up looking like, though you can feel free to vary it as much as you like. Remember, this is an Aussie traditional dessert, only slightly revamped for Americans. : )
Rachel’s Aussie-American Pavlova
6 egg whites
8oz confectioner’s sugar, 4x (or caster sugar)
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until it forms stiff peaks. Gradually add sugar, beat until sugar is no longer grainy. Add salt, cream of tartar, vinegar, and vanilla, one at a time. Lightly fold in cornstarch.
Pile mixture into a circular shape, on parchment paper, on a cooking sheet. Build up the sides into walls, with a lower, “hollow” center. Make furrows up the sides, if you like. Bake until crunchy on the outside.
Electric oven: Bake at 250°F, for 1.5 hours
Gas oven: Start at 400°F, bake 10 minutes, then lower to 250°, bake for 1 more hour.
Convection: Bake at 235°F for 1 hour, 15 minutes (varies).
Let pavlova cool in the oven, with the door ajar. When cool, fill with whipped cream and decorate with fruit.
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
Beat cream, sugar, & vanilla until soft peaks form.
I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this pavlova journey with me. My thanks to all the friends that have given me recipes and made suggestions on how to achieve the perfect pavlova. All measurements and temperatures are American, so be careful, if you live anywhere else. : ) I hope more of my American friends will try out this recipe, and learn to love it as much as I do!