In honor of this turning of the seasons, I bring you a light little piece of fluff– the Pavlova.
When I was cooking at a little restaurant in the Mission called the Moa Room, my favorite Kiwi and boss, Chef Jan Gardner often let me run off and do my own thing with our desserts, which was rather brave of her. But not so when she felt the call to make her Pavlova or pav, as it is affectionately known– the most famous dessert ever to come out of New Zealand. I would stand back to watch her work, asking her to say things like “milk” and “bottle” so that I might be better able to imitate her accent as well as her dessert-making technique. She was a very patient woman who only occasionally would ask a co-worker if he or she wouldn’t mind punching me in the neck.
This pleasant breath of fresh air is rarely seen on San Francisco dessert menus, which I think is a pity. It is as light and airy as the dancing of its namesake, the most famous of all ballerinas, Anna Pavlova.
There is some argument as to the origin of this dessert. Australians claim it was birthed by Herbert Sachse of the Hotel Esplanade, Perth, Australia, citing in 1935 that the dish was “as light as Pavlova.” She stayed at the hotel while on tour in 1929. It just took him six years to come up with something clever to say about it.
New Zealand has an earlier, similar claim coming out of Wellington in 1926, when a hotel chef created a dish inspired by the shape of the touring dancer’s white tutu with green cabbage roses and frothy netting. I’m no social archaeologist, but I’ll just bet the farm he was gay.
Well, I love Australians, but I am siding with my friends from New Zealand on this one.
Jan Gardner shied away from kiwifruit, most likely because they are not echt New Zealand. To her, a kiwi is the smaller, non-extinct cousin of the moa. The Chinese Gooseberry arrived in the land of the dead moa from, unsurprisingly, China in 1904. The name “kiwifruit” was originally a marketing ploy. One that has worked all too well. Though this meringue happily supports a wide variety of fruit, I have used the kiwi because the original dish, as far as I can tell, contained them. Remember those green cabbage roses.
This is not Jan’s recipe. I never got it. I could just punch myself in the neck for not asking for it. The recipe listed below is a culling of several.
For a great run down on how to approach a meringue, read Shuna Lydon’s take on the Pavlova.
For the Pavlova:
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup of superfine sugar (you can make this out of table sugar by whizzing it in a Cuisinart or clean coffee grinder.)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Tradition does not call for this, I just like it in my meringue.
For the Topping:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup buttermilk. Again, this is not traditional. I just prefer a bit of tang to compliment the über-sweetness of the meringue.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh fruit. Tart is good. Things like kiwifruit, strawberries, raspberries, beri beri. I don’t care. Passion fruit is really amazing with it, too.
1. Pre-heat oven to 300 F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Create and cut out a separate circle of parchment paper about 7 inches in diameter. Cut out a matching circle of cardboard. Attach the parchment circle to cardboard with a smear of corn syrup or whatever you’ve got handy to adhere. I’ll bet even Elmer’s glue would work, though I would not recommend it. (Note: this cut out circle business isn’t absolutely necessary, but I find it helps me get a cleaner edge on the meringue.)
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk egg whites at slow speed, gradually increasing the speed as the volume of the whites increase. When the whites begin to hold a soft peak, add the sugar a little at a time to dissolve. Increase the speed and whip until the mixture is silken and the peaks hold stiff.
4. Having made a slurry of your vinegar and cornstarch, stir to discourage any lumps. Sprinkle the slurry over the meringue and fold in.
5. Gently heap meringue onto your parchment disk, making certain to leave a shallow bowl in the center for eventual cream-and fruit-filling. Smooth the edges of the meringue for a clean look or make any sort of design you wish. Please email me if you’ve come up with anything interesting or vaguely obscene.
6. Place your meringue-topped cardboard parchment onto the lined baking sheet and place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and walk away. Baking should take about one hour, but it is best to peek in every once in a while to see how your creation is doing. The Pavlova should not brown, but take on a slight cream color. Leaving it in the oven to dry out a bit is a good thing.
The now-baked Pavlova will keep for up to a week when stored in non-humid conditions in an air-tight container.
7. For the topping, whip cream and buttermilk until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and vanilla, then whip a little more. You make chose to remove half the cream at this stage for spreading, whipping up the remainder for piping those tutu-like frills around the edge that I somehow failed to achieve.
8. Spread the whipped cream over the meringue. Top with the fruit of your choice, and serve immediately in the fifth position, thereby impressing your friends and family with your limberness of both lower body and culinary expertise.