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Pavlova from "Down Under"

Our travel plans are basically still “stay put”, with no faraway wandering for awhile. A long-distance destination that I visited many years ago, and have recently been dreaming about going back to, is Australia. With its out-of-this-world nature and relaxed cross-cultural vibe, I loved it as a young traveller. But I was so busy exploring, I never really immersed myself in any sort of food culture at that time. Looking back, what might I have eaten on a summer afternoon visit to a typical Aussie home? Pavlova!

Photographs: Erin Chapman

Text: Erin Chapman

A couple of years ago at the pie shop, we were contacted by an Australian/Danish couple who were going to have a wedding in Denmark. They begged and pleaded if we could make “pavlova” for their reception. At first, I didn’t know what it was, as the name wasn’t familiar to my food realm. So I quickly looked it up and found it was a crisp meringue torte, exactly like the schaum torte that my grandma – with her German background – made every summer. Different continent, different name!

As it turns out, my Aussie neighbour here in Denmark has explained to me that “the pav”, as pavlova is affectionately called in her country, is a true dessert staple down under. She also claims there is a bit of competition between Australia and New Zealand about which country “owns” the pavlova, said to have been named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. But you might have to go further back to Europe to find the exact origin, as this light-as-air meringue cake has roots in Austria, Germany, France and Italy.

Wherever it came from, I ended up making multiple pavlovas for the Aussie wedding party here in Copenhagen, and it was indeed a learning curve to ensure all the delicate meringue majesties were delivered at just the right time to provide the best pavlova experience.

So, enjoy this timeless, worldly dessert on a beautiful summer afternoon, and dream about where you want to travel next…

Pavlova with sour vanilla cream & summer berries

Serves 8

Pavlovas must be topped with cream and berries just before serving to ensure the meringue stays crisp. As a time-saver you can make your pavlova a day ahead or in the morning. It can be topped with plain whipped cream, or even vanilla custard, but I love to add a bit of creme fraiche to the whipped cream to give it a smooth, rich consistency that is a luscious combination with the sweet, crisp meringue and the juicy fresh berries.

Pavlova base

4 egg whites (1.5 dl)

250 g sugar

1.5 teaspoons cornstarch, sifted

2 teaspoons lemon juice, or white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sour vanilla cream topping

350 ml heavy cream

100 g cream fraiche

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

Fresh summer berries of your choice – anything goes!

Prepare the pavlova

  1. Allow the egg whites to come to room temperature (about 20-30 min).

  2. Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

  3. Using an electric mixer, or stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they start to turn foamy. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time while beating the egg whites, occasionally scraping down the edges of the bowl. You will beat the egg whites for several minutes.

  4. After all the sugar has been added, continue to beat the mixture another 3 minutes, or until there are no sugar granules left in the meringue. You can test this, by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger. If there are still granules, continue to beat the meringue a bit longer.

  5. Beating on low speed, add the cornstarch, then the lemon juice or vinegar, then the vanilla and mix until combined.

  6. Turn the oven down to 100C (if using convection) or 110C (if using regular heat).

  7. Take a few dabs of the mixture and dot the bottom of your parchment paper – this will help it stick to the baking tray while you shape the pavlova.

  8. Dollop the mixture onto the centre of the lined baking tray and gently spread out and shape to be a 20-23 cm diameter circle, and about 5-8 cm high, smoothing the edges and swirling the top. (PRO TIP: you can stick your parchment paper to the bottom part of a springform, and that will give you a circle to follow as a guide, plus make it easier to transfer to a serving plate!)

  9. Bake the pavlova at the low heat for 90 min. Then turn off the oven and leave it there until the oven has completely cooled. If you aren’t using the oven until your company shows up, you can leave it in there to stay dry, or store it in an airtight container.

Make the sour vanilla cream

Whip the heavy cream until just starting to thicken. Add the cream fraiche, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and whip until smooth and combined.

To serve

Top the pavlova with the cream mixture and top with your favourite summer berries. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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