It’s the wonderful dessert that both Australians and New Zealanders call their own. This pavlova recipe creates pav perfection, with a smooth and fluffy marshmallow centre encased in a delicate and crisp meringue shell.
Top it with whipped cream and fruit, add a little ice cream if you like, and get your dessert spoon at the ready because this dessert always disappears fast.
Pavlova: the dessert worth fighting for
This dessert not only sees family members fighting for the last slice, it’s also been fought over for decades by Australia and New Zealand. Both countries claim it as their own.
Which country does it really belong to?
We may never know. Perhaps both.
Does it really matter?
Of course not.
What I do know is that when something tastes this good, we can all celebrate.
The one thing most sources do agree on is that it’s named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who visited Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.
Pavlova recipe: a new type of “cake”
Pavlova was initially named “Pavlova Cake” and was a more elaborate cake with layers of jelly and meringue made separately.
It gradually evolved into the pavlova we now see on modern tables throughout Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world – especially at Christmas time.
Nana Ling wrote out this recipe by hand in October 1941. She’s named it Pavlova Cake, but it’s the recipe for what we now know and love as pavlova.
You can, however, tell it’s something new and different for the time by the descriptive way she writes out the method:
“…turn off the gas when it is a deep creamy colour”
“…hard on the outside and like marshmallow inside”
She also talks about filling the hollow with cream and leaving it in the oven to cool. These are all things we continue to do today to create the perfect pav.
Creating the perfect pavlova
Here, I’ve used the exact ingredients Nana Ling lists in her original recipe. I’ve tweaked the cooking time slightly to suit modern ovens.
Pavlovas can be a little tricky, and prone to burning, cracking, collapsing and weeping. To avoid these nasties and create something that looks wonderful and tastes even better, here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful:
Tip 1: It’s all about the eggs
Use mid-sized eggs (grab the 12 eggs/700 gram carton) and don’t let any of the yolk get into the white as you separate the eggs. I find whites that I’ve frozen and thawed out or whites that have been in the fridge for a day work every bit as good as completely fresh egg whites.
Tip 2: Whip it good (but not too good)
I use the medium-high setting to whip the whites and then beat the whites and the sugar. Once the mixture reaches soft peaks, you’re good. Don’t beat on the highest speed and don’t keep beating and beating. More beating doesn’t equal a better or fluffier pavlova.
Tip 3: Get it into shape
When spreading the mixture onto the tray, you want a lovely rounded shape, slightly dipping in the middle. Your edges should dome in a little towards the centre rather than looking straight like a cake. This helps create a strong and stable pavlova that won’t collapse.
Tip 4: Get creative
I’ve decorated this pavlova with my own favourites. Fresh cream, chopped strawberries, chopped mango, passionfruit blueberries and a little mint to add some more colour. I’ve also dusted the edges with icing sugar.
Growing up, the pavs at our big family parties were always the thing that made me run to the table when someone shouted “dessert time”. In one word, they were amazing – however I did have to dodge the banana and kiwi fruit that was often used to decorate.
But that’s the great thing about this dessert. You can get creative and decorate your pavlova just how you like it.
How do you like to decorate pavlova? Do you have any secrets to the perfect pav that I haven’t mentioned here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Nana Ling’s Pavlova recipe
Keep scrolling for the tested and tweaked version.
- 4 egg whites
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 600 ml thickened cream
- 1 tablespoon icing sugar
- 1 mango
- 1 passionfruit
- 3 strawberries
- 10 blueberries
- 1 sprig mint
- Preheat oven to 120 degrees celsius (fan-forced)
- Line a baking tray or round pizza tray with baking paper.
- Beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until the mixture forms soft peaks.
- Add sugar gradually while mixing on low speed. Then return to med-high speed and beat for another two minutes. The mixture should look thick and glossy – if it doesn't continue beating for another minute.
- Return mixture to low speed and add vanilla essence and vinegar. Mix until combined.
- Pour mixture onto the lined tray, creating a circle about 20cm in diameter with a slight dip in the middle. Using your spatula, brush up the sides of the circle towards an imaginary point about 50 cm above the centre of the pavlova. This will give the shape a slightly domed effect and help with the stability or your pavlova.
- Turn oven down to 110 degrees celsius (fan-forced) and place pavlova in oven. Cook for 45 minutes and then turn oven off. DO NOT open the oven door. Leave the pavlova to cool in the oven for at least a few hours, preferably half a day.
- Once completely cool, remove from the oven. Decorate with whipped cream and fruit just before serving.
- To make the whipped cream, simply combine the cream and icing sugar and the beat until peaks form.
- Cut fruit to your liking (and substitute other fruits if you prefer banana, kiwifruit, figs, peaches or something else) and use a little creativity to make your pavlova truly special.