This dessert is one of my favorite go-to recipes for holidays, dinner parties, and the like. Not only is it delicious, but it’s a relatively easy dessert to put together, and it looks impressive. But the best thing about this dessert is that it is so light and airy that it can top off any 20-course holiday smorgasbord and still leave room for a cocktail or coffee.
There are many recipes and variations of this dessert available, but the basic combination is simple: meringue + whipped cream + fruit. Winter is a great time for making this, at least in the northern regions in the U.S., because meringue is much easier to cook and store when there is not much ambient heat or humidity. Of course, the storing problem usually isn’t an issue because I never seem to have leftovers!
The name Pavlova was apparently given in honor of Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina from the early 20th century. The meringue takes 2-3 hours in the oven, so it’s best to prepare that part the night before you plan to serve it. The rest of the assembly can be done relatively quickly and at the last minute.
6 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 Tbl. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pt. heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbl. sugar, to taste
Fruit – fresh or frozen, choose one option from below
1 1/2 c. berries (blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries) + 2 Tbl. berry jam
1 mango and 1 kiwi, both peeled + 2 Tbl. apricot jam
1 1/2 c. peeled and sliced peaches, nectarines, or apricots + 2 Tbl. apricot jam
1/4 c. fresh fruit, sliced or cut decoratively
1/4 c. chopped unsalted pistachios
Preheat your oven to 250º and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Using a whisk attachment, beat the eggs in an electric mixer on slow to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form. Increase the speed and slowly add the sugar. Continue beating for several minutes more until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in the vanilla, cornstarch, and vinegar until combined.
Spoon out the egg whites onto the baking sheet in the shape of a circle no larger than the dish you plan to use for serving (about 8-9 inches in diameter). Then hollow out a wide, shallow crater in the center that will later serve as a “bowl” for the fruit. The egg whites should look like a shiny, white, fluffy cumulus cloud, with a slight volcano center. Avoid sharp peaks because they will just break off after the meringue is cooked.
Bake the meringue at 250º for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 175º and bake for another 1 1/2 hours more. Turn off the heat and let the meringue rest in the oven for an additional hour or so (or overnight), until the oven and meringue are completely cooled. The outside of the meringue should seem hard and crispy to the touch. Store the meringue in a cool, dry place until ready to serve.
Place the meringue “cake” in one piece on the serving plate. When removing the meringue from the parchment paper or baking mat, it’s best to use a large off-set spatula. Don’t worry if a few small pieces crumble off. They can be placed in the “crater” with the fruit before covering it all with the whipped cream. And if it cracks a bit, no big deal — it will be undetectable under the cream.
Take half of the fruit (whichever kind you choose) and either mash it or lightly puree it with the jam. Chop the rest into small chunks and add it to the mashed fruit. Spoon the fruit mixture into the crater of the meringue. Depending on the size of the crater, you might not use all the fruit.
In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover the entire meringue with the whipped cream, making it look like a very white, fluffy cloud. Garnish with the reserved fruit pieces, if you like. I like it just smooth and creamy, but if you want to add a little crunch, you can also sprinkle chopped unsalted pistachios on top. Serve immediately and enjoy!