Pavlova Meringue Cake

  • Serves: Makes one 8-inch cake
  • Baking Temp (degrees F): 400 initially; then 250; then 175
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  • Comments: 25

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Pavlova is a soft centered meringue cake decorated with whipped cream and fruit. The question of which country, Australia or New Zealand, first came up with the idea of the pavlova may never be answered. Both lay claim to the invention of this sweet dessert, but neither one can prove it.

It has been thought that in 1935, the chef of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia, Herbert Sachse, created the pavlova to celebrate the visit of the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.  

It has also been thought that the dessert gently evolved from years of recipe-swapping in New Zealand years earlier. Although the recipe has changed over the years, the name pavlova in NZ cookbooks has been mainly associated with a basic meringue mixture that consisted of egg white, sugar and usually vanilla. The precursor of the modern pavlova recipe in NZ was published in the N.Z. Dairy Exporter Annual in 1929. It contained the basic meringue ingredients and corn flour. By 1934 there also existed pavlova cake recipes with vinegar. In 1939 the popular Edmonds Sure to Rise Cookery Book published its first pavlova recipe which included the basic meringue ingredients, vinegar but no corn flour. The 2005 edition included a pavlova recipe, not only with vinegar and corn flour but also with water. As well the instructions for shaping, cooking temperature and time had been modified.

Today, Pavlova recipes are typically baked on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, with the meringue smoothed to a circle, but I like to sometimes bake mine in an 8- or 9-inch inch springform pan, instead, especially if I have to travel with the delicate baked meringue base and assemble it onsite. The meringue part can be baked in advance, but always assemble the Pavlova right before serving, otherwise the baked meringue base will become softened or soggy from the whipped cream and fruit piled on top.

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