A pavlova is a large disk of meringue, crispy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. It is absolutely nothing like the dry, chalky meringue shells that one can buy in the supermarket. Dolloped on top is whipped cream, and the whole is decorated with fruit. Strawberries are very traditional, but raspberries, banana, mango and kiwi fruit*, and various combinations of these, are probably just as popular. The one fruit which is more or less essential on top of a pav is passionfruit.
A pavlova is one of the few dishes that combines pieces of fruit (as opposed to purée) and cream in a way that enhances the fruit rather than masks it. Perhaps the influence of the sweet crunchy/spongey meringue is the secret.
The meringue base before it goes into the oven.It is important that a pavlova is cooked in such a way that the meringue barely colours. The merest hint of off-whiteness is acceptable but anything more is shameful failure.
The meringue base after it has come out of the oven.
For the meringue
3 egg whites, more than 1 day old, less than a week old, at room temperature
175 g sugar (white, caster or vanilla)
For the topping
275 ml cream, whipped
Fruit to decorate
- Preheat oven to 100°C.
- Line a baking sheet with silicone paper.
- Rinse out the bowl the egg whites are to be whipped in with boiling water. Add a couple of drops of lemon juice and wipe the bowl completely dry with kitchen paper towel. This ensures no residual fat or moisture in the bowl to spoil the loft of the egg whites; it warms the bowl, which aids the aeration of the egg whites; it adds a touch of acid, which will strengthen the protein of the egg white, enabling it to hold air longer.
- Beat the egg whites slowly for about 30 seconds until frothy. If you are worried about the stability of your egg whites, you can add cream of tartar at a rate of ¼ tsp per egg white at this stage. Cream of tartar is an acid in powder form. A little acid will help the egg white, as noted above, and because it is in a powder form, you are not adding moisture. Meringue is so sensitive to moisture that it can even fail on particularly humid days.
- Now beat the egg whites rapidly for a minute or two until they are stiff and pull up into peaks that don't collapse when you remove the whisk. It is much easier to overbeat than underbeat egg white, so take care. Overbeaten egg whites will start to produce liquid and separate into little clumps, losing glossiness.
- Add the sugar a heaped tablespoon at a time, whisking for a few seconds to incorporate each addition.
- Spoon the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet and shape gently into a roughly 20 cm circle. Push a little from the centre out to the sides so they are slightly raised and the centre slightly sunken. Don't fuss too much with it, as the more you prod and push the more air you squeeze out of it, no matter how light your touch.
- Put it on the top shelf in the oven and turn the thermostat down to 70°C.
- Cook for 1 hour, then turn the oven off. Leave the meringue in the cooling oven for a minimum of 4 hours, and preferably overnight.
- To finish, transfer the pavlova base to a flat plate. Spread the whipped cream thickly on top and decorate with the fruit.
- Cut into wedges and serve. This size pavlova will serve 6.
*Please note: it is kiwi fruit. Kiwis (on their own, without the fruit) are either a family of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand, and one of that country's national symbols (link to the cult video cartoon Kiwi! on YouTube); or the generic nickname by which people born and bred in New Zealand are known.