Pavlova, what are you exactly? A pile of contradictions? You're a meringue on the outside but marshmallow-like on the inside. Learn more about this desert here.
We’ve talked before about the fascinating histories of some delicious desserts—from profiteroles to Torta Della Nonna. Today, we’ll be taking a look at another sweet: one that defies definition. One that has a history as rich as its gooey filling.
We’re talking about pavlova. The origin story of this crunchy, chewy, meringue-based dessert takes more turns than a chimney cake on a spit. Prepare to dive deep into an age-old debate about who invented it, with an outcome you might not expect.
Read on to find out what the recipe is, where it has come from, and how you can make the perfect pavlova every time.
What Is Pavlova?
In its purest form, pavlova consists of only three components. Because there are so few, each must be of an incredibly high standard. One bad ingredient could end up letting down the entire dish.
So what is pavlova made of? A base of meringue, topped with whipped cream, finished off with a layer of fresh fruit.
The types of fruit most often used would be strawberries, passionfruit, and kiwifruit. However, it is possible to add any kind you like.
Versions can be made using winter berries, citrus fruits, or more tropical fare. The list goes on and on. As long as you have fruit topping the other two components, it can be called a pavlova.
Pavlova is a delicious dessert that many novice bakers struggle with. This is because meringue can be a difficult dish to get right for beginners. However, once one has mastered this portion of the dessert, the rest couldn’t be easier.
Both because of its toppings and its nature, pavlova is a very versatile dish. It can be served in summer, winter, spring, or fall.
Who Invented It?
When and how pavlova was actually invented is—and has been for years—the subject of much debate. Although it has a Russian-sounding name, this is no indication whatsoever as to its origins. Instead, it’s one of many false clues about where it might have come from.
If you know anything at all about the history of pavlova, you may already be aware that two countries—Australia and New Zealand—both claim to have invented it. It should be noted that the quintessential version from each country is a little different.
The Australian take tends to be crunchier and is most often topped with cream and passionfruit. The Kiwi version, on the other hand, is topped with, well, kiwis, and tends more toward the chewy side of things. So, which one is the true original pavlova?
The rivalry between these two countries on this topic has been ongoing for over a century now and continues to this day. Even in spite of definitive evidence pointing in one direction. Perhaps because New Zealand and Australia are so used to being rivals in just about everything imaginable.
Each country has a different tale of how this sweet came to be. Both involve Prima Ballerina Anna Pavlova, after whom a surprising amount of desserts and dishes were named.
New Zealand claims that a chef at the Wellington Hotel was inspired by Pavlova’s tutu during her stay there, and created the fluffy dessert in her honor. The Australian story goes that a chef at the Perth Hotel was responsible for the dish and that it got its name when one diner made the comment that it “as light as Pavlova”.
Both are convincing stories, but which one is true? Perhaps both, but as to the true origins of the dish? Neither country can lay claim.
The True Origins of Pavlova
As two steadfast researchers (an Australian and a New Zealander) discovered in 2015, the pavlova hails not from Australia or New Zealand, but most likely from Germany, by way of America.
It is now believed that the idea for the cake was imported to the southern hemisphere from the US after German immigrants had popularized the recipe there. As far as these dessert detectives can tell, the recipe is an evolved form of something the Germans called a Spanische Windtorte, a complicated combination of meringue, fruit, and cream.
After the turn of the 20th century, meringue-based desserts became exceedingly popular in America, likely due to the invention of the Dover egg beater, a mechanism that allowed housewives to beat eggs more easily. There were a number of different variants, and the Spanische Windtorte was one such dish.
Although this version involved putting fruit on the inside, over time the dish changed and evolved, and eventually, the fruit was placed on top. Thus, the pavlova was born.
Make Your Own Pavlova
No matter where it has come from, today pavlova is firmly cemented as a classic dessert loved the world over. It may take a bit of practice to get right, but the ingredients are surprisingly simple.
The key to the pavlova meringue is cornflour. This gives the base its signature chewy inside and crunch exterior. The vinegar prevents the meringue from collapse. The other ingredients are straightforward.
- Egg whites
- White wine vinegar
After you’ve baked and cooled the meringue base, it’s time to add the topping. This is a simple matter of whipping up some delicious cream and then choosing which fruit you’d like to top it with. No matter what variety you go with, always make sure the fruit is super fresh.
Whip the cream, then add a generous layer on top of the meringue. Finally, spread your choice of fruit evenly along the top. And there you have it, your very own pavlova.
If you’re looking for a fun variation of this dessert, try Eton Mess. Prepare the ingredients as you would with a normal pavlova, then crush the meringue and layer in a glass with whipped cream and strawberries.
Check Out the Rest of Our Recipes
We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini pavlova history lesson. If you’d like to learn more about different desserts, don’t forget to check out the rest of our Baking & Dessert section now.
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