At one time I thought of New Zealand as the land of extreme sports, flightless birds, Flight of the Conchords, magnificent scenery, Maoris, fine wine and the films of Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings. Then I spent last month in this island nation and learned of our shared passion for the meringue-based dessert pavlova.
All pavlovas begin with a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside meringue. The addition of vinegar or lemon juice helps the meringue to achieve its chewiness. So, too, does low, slow baking.
Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit are heaped on top of it. Although berries, kiwi and mango are popular options, the traditional filling is passion fruit.
Meringue, cream and fruit. That’s it. That’s all there is to “the pav.”
It sounds like such a simple, uncontroversial dessert. Yet it’s not. For almost a century debate has raged over whether New Zealand or Australia invented the pav. Australians claim that Perth chef Herbert Sachse made the first at the Esplanade Hotel in 1935. Kiwis point to its inclusion in a 1927, NZ cookbook, a cookbook published a year after the dessert’s namesake, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, visited New Zealand. Even so, historians continue to wrangle over which country holds claim.
Maybe I was just more attuned to my surroundings but I seemed to come across pavlovas far more often on New Zealand’s South Island than I did in Eastern Australia. They popped up frequently on restaurant menus and in bakery cases. Had I wanted to whip up a pav at that night’s airbnb, I could buy a commercially made meringue base or Edmonds Pavlova Magic at any NZ supermarket. That’s a lot of pavlova options for one small island. In spite of this prevalence I think it’s wise to stay out of the ‘who created the pav’ dispute.
While its country of origin may be in question, one thing is not. The pavlova is one delicious dessert. Even if you never choose to endure that ridiculously long plane ride—23 hours from the U.S. East Coast—to New Zealand or Australia, treat yourself to the pleasure of a good pavlova. It’s a unique and ethereal sweet.
for the meringue:
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
for the fruit topping:
2 cups sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
for the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Place the egg whites in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. See the photo directly below for an example of soft peaks.
Add the vanilla extract and lemon juice and beat to incorporate. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, continuing to beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks form. The photo below depicts stiff, glossy peaks.
Taking a spatula, spoon the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet and shape it into an even circle. If, like me, your circles tend to come out lopsided, feel free to recreate my small cheat and mound the meringue onto a parchment round that you’ve placed on top of the original parchment sheet. Perfect circles every time!
Place the baking sheet in the oven, lower the temperature to 225 degrees F and bake for 1 hour. After 1 hour turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When you’re ready to assemble your pav, place the strawberries in a small saucepan with the sugar and lime and simmer over medium-low until the berries begin to release their juices. Remove the berries, straining them to return any excess liquid to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high and then reduce the heat to medium low, allowing the liquid to simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.
As the liquid is reducing, make the whipped cream. Place the cream, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until soft peaks form.
To assemble, spread the whipped cream over the meringue, leaving a bare edge of 1 to 2 inches. (See the image below for further details.)
Spoon the fruit into the center of the whipped cream. Drizzle the reduced strawberry juice over the berries and cream. Serve immediately.