New Zealand – Pavlova

I was being really good this past week – working out, eating vegetables, getting eight hours of sleep, not eating whole cakes by myself – and then the pavlova happened. Damn you New Zealand for creating something so delicious that I was three slices in before stopping to catch my breath. You already have gorgeous mountains, hobbits, and awesome people (shout out to my good friend and New Zealand native Evan), and now you are also the homeland of my new favorite dessert.

I am clearly thrilled about how the pavlova turned out and would love to just show picture after picture of this gorgeous  dessert, but I should back up and give some history. For the first time in my (admittedly short) adventure into the desserts of the world, when I googled “national dessert [insert country]” only one dessert came up for New Zealand – pavlova. Apparently pavlova is to New Zealand as apple pie is to the US. While pavlova is undisputedly the national dessert of New Zealand, there is some debate over the origin of this masterful meringue. Australia and New Zealand both claim credit for creating the dish in honor of the ballerina Anna Pavlova during one of her tours to the countries in the 1920s. Australia claims one of its chefs made the dish first. According to Evan that is a “crock of shit.”

In 2010, BBC reported that the Oxford English Dictionary declared the dessert to be of New Zealand origin, but in 2015 new research suggested the basic components of the dish (meringue, cream, fruit) were first combined in the US. Not wanting to create an irreparable tear in the fabric of my friendship with Evan, and also because I trust BBC to a fault, I am going to side with the majority of articles-the pavlova is all yours New Zealand. Congratulations.

The Bake

Having never made a meringue before, I was apprehensive to say the least. YouTube and the Great British Bake Off make meringues sound so finicky, and my confidence was low following my last bake (I am still mad at you, dear chocotorta). Still, I forged ahead and what do you know – it was pretty easy.

The meringue itself has only a few ingredients. The tricky part is separating out all of those egg whites. I recommend using multiple bowls – one for whites, one for yolks, and a large mixing bowl to incorporate the sugar. Add the sugar slowly and your meringue should turn out fine, eventually forming gorgeous stiff peaks.

I admit that the meringue did not look too pretty after I gently folded in the chocolate, but I was undeterred.  I plopped the whole thing on a baking sheet anyway, smoothed out the top slightly, threw it into the oven, and crossed my fingers.

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The recipe I used said to bake for anywhere from 60 – 90 minutes, which sounded like an absurdly wide window. I baked this beauty for 80 minutes, at which point the meringue was a lovely chocolatey brown color and starting to crack around the edges. Apparently the best way to test a meringue for doneness is to attempt to lift the whole thing off of the parchment paper. If it comes off easily, the meringue is done; if there is any tension or stickiness, then leave it in the oven and check again in a few minutes.

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Please resist eating the meringue straight out of the oven, I know it is tempting.  Allow it to cool completely. The cooled meringue can also be kept in the freezer for months wrapped in plastic.  Of course, this assumes one can resist eating a meringue for that long, a dubious proposition.

After the meringue has cooled, layer on some fresh whipped cream (or buy the canned stuff if you are that lazy) and top with fresh fruit of your choice. Then-and only then-should you consume your absolutely divine pavlova.

The Moment of Truth

Clearly awesome. This dessert was quite simple to make, super light and airy (like a ballerina’s tutu), and delectable. And can I get some props for how pretty this looks? What a photogenic dessert. I absolutely plan on making one of these for the next (ok fine, first) fancy dinner party I attend-and knocking the socks off of everyone.

The Recipe

The recipe I used comes courtesy of Deb at Smitten Kitchen (with a slight modification).

6 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sugar

A few pinches of sea salt

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 ounces chopped chocolate (I used unsweetened, you could also use bittersweet or semi-sweet)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grab a sheet of parchment paper and draw a circle with a 9-inch diameter in the middle of the paper.  Line your largest baking sheet with this marked up parchment paper. Make sure to put the pencil-marked side down so that the pencil lead doesn’t get on the pavlova.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the sugar spoonful by spoonful until the meringue is stiff, shiny, and the shape of the mixer stays in the meringue. Gently fold in the sea salt, vinegar, cocoa powder, and chopped chocolate. It is OK if the chocolate is not folded in completely.

Plop the mix onto your lined baking sheet and form into a rough circle using the pencil guide you made earlier. Do not over shape or the meringue will loose its fluffiness. Place the meringue in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300F. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes. As mentioned above, in my experience, the bake is much closer to 90 minutes than 60. You want the meringue to look brown and like it’s just starting to crack (see my advice above in “The Bake”). Once the meringue is baked, turn off the oven, leave oven door slightly ajar, and let the meringue rest in the oven until cooled. When ready to serve, add whipped cream, fresh fruit, and chocolate shavings or powdered sugar if desired.

Fun Fact

New Zealand was the first country to give all women the right to vote. Also, for a dose of irony, the logo of the Royal New Zealand Air Force is the kiwi – a flightless bird.

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