Who has heard of Pavlova? The cake that sounds like the last name of some Russian woman actually is the last name of a Russian woman!
It was invented in New Zealand or Australia (there’s a dispute between them regarding this cake) and named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in the 1920s.
What is Pavlova Cake?
This recipe composed of meringue with fruit and cream is a perfect solution for emergency situations. Have a bunch of people coming to your house tonight but you’ve forgotten to buy dessert? Need something that looks mind-blowing but requires minimum skills? Pavlova cake is just the thing you need. Pavlova and cream of tartar, of course.
There are many reasons you should make this cake. First of all, it looks incredible – pillow-y and graceful, just like a ballerina.
Pavlova is also economical, even when you need to feed a crowd. One cake can serve about 15-20 people and it will cost you approximately a dollar per person! Ain’t it great?
Pavlova is very easy to make and quite adjustable, without any special ingredients (except for cream of tartar, which is a must). Even the use of fruits is flexible: in Australia and New Zealand, passion fruit, kiwi, and strawberries are most commonly used. In the States, people seem to favor berries. But who is to stop you if you decide to go with entirely different fruit options?
Where Does Cream of Tartar Fit in Pavlova Cake Recipes
Traditionally, Pavlova cake is made with a French meringue. Meringues are very simple in their core – egg whites beaten with sugar and then baked. The baking is at low temperature and lasts for an hour, resulting in a light, crispy exterior, and creamy, fluffy interior. This is the ideal situation. However, contrary to popular belief, meringues are quite easy to mess up.
Enter cream of tartar. Hard meringues, like the French version, usually contain an acidic ingredient such as cream of tartar, which acts as a stabilizer. This means that cream of tartar keeps the meringue from deflating. In addition, it keeps the eggs white and bright, which is certainly important for the final appearance of the cake. Optionally, you can use cream of tartar substitutes such as lemon juice or white vinegar. However, bear in mind that cream of tartar substitutes produce slightly different results.
I highly recommend that you buy a packet of cream of tartar and keep it in your pantry. It is inexpensive, you can use it in different recipes, and it will last for a very long time (it has an indefinite shelf life)!
Pavlova Cake Recipe Step by Step
Here are the ingredients you need to make a pavlova cake.
For the meringue:
- 6 egg whites
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Step 1: Making the French Meringue
Besides cream of tartar to stabilize the egg-white foam, the type of sugar and sugar-to-egg ratio are also important when making meringues. The best type is superfine sugar because it dissolves more easily when whipped. As for the amount, hard meringues like the one required in pavlova cake, call for ¼ cup per egg white.
To take your meringue to another level, use a total of six eggs and heavy cream. The final result will be incredibly rich and marshmallowy. Optionally, flavor the meringue with vanilla, orange or rose blossom water (a teaspoon is enough) or even booze. You can add a bit of bourbon to the mixture (1-2 shots) but in this case, expect a bit longer whipping. Oh, and don’t worry, your kids can still have a slice of this boozy cake; the amount is quite low and most of it will evaporate during baking.
Step 2: Making the Cream
The cream in this cake is a no-brainer. It’s actually plain whipped cream, but you’re not going for plain things here, are you? You can turn ordinary cream into extraordinary by adding maple syrup, cinnamon, orange or lemon zest, or even herbs like mint. But my favorite cream is definitely the chocolate one!
Here is how to make a chocolate cream: dissolve half a cup of cocoa in two cups liquid cream, then whisk until well incorporated. To make the pavlova even better, combine the whipped cream with crème fraîche, sour cream, or soft cheese like mascarpone or ricotta.
Note: Use the stabilizing and whitening properties of cream of tartar when preparing the cream as well, by adding a 1/8 teaspoon to the mixture before whipping.
Step 3: Adding the Fruit
The addition of fruit gives the cake a tangy note that pairs beautifully with the creaminess and sweetness of the base.
As mentioned before, berries are always a good choice (I favor strawberries and cranberries) but citrus fruits like grapefruit or blood orange produce an even better-pronounced contrast of flavors. Consider also apples and pears caramelized in a little butter, plums, or even pomegranate.
Step 4: Toppings
A basic pavlova cake is made up of three elements: meringue, cream, and fruit. But adding some sauce won’t do any harm. On the contrary! You can add various molasses & syrups or nuts for crunchiness. My personal favorite is pistachios but I sometimes use almonds too.
Here is a recipe for my favorite sauce made with berries, which actually unites the obligatory use of fruit with the optional use of sauce!
- 1 package frozen berries
- 1 tablespoon cherry brandy
- 1/4 cup sugar
Preparation: Make the sauce by simmering the berries, brandy, and sugar together for about 20 minutes. Let it cool before placing it on top of the cake. That’s it!
Baking the Pavlova Cake
Here are some basic tips and tricks that will help you make a perfect Pavlova cake every time.
Step 5: Preparing the Baking Sheet
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper to facilitate the meringue removal. If the baking sheet is rimmed, turn it upside down and bake the meringue on the other side.
When you put the meringue on the baking sheet, form a shallow hole in the center of the meringue to form a little ‘nest’ for the fruits after baking.
Bear in mind that the cake will expand during baking so make sure to leave some space on all sides.
Step 6: Baking the Cake
During baking, try not to check the cake by opening the oven door too often. Temperature changes caused by letting cold air inside will make your meringue crack and look less appealing (this won’t affect the taste, though). However, even if the meringue cracks, don’t fret; the cake is covered in whipped cream and fruit anyway. Being messy suits this cake (very unlike a ballerina J)
Ideally, the Pavlova cake should be light in color. So, if you notice the cake is going brown on the surface, lower the oven temperature.
Step 7: After Baking
Once your cake is baked, let it cool completely before topping. Keep it in the oven, with the door closed to avoid cracking or take the cake out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil.
I love that the meringue for Pavlova can be made a day or two in advance. You just add the cream and fruit when you’re ready to serve.
In case of leftovers, store in a container after breaking up any larger chunks of meringue. Keep in the fridge until the following day.
What’s your favorite pavlova cake recipe?
I believe that food should not only taste good, but make you feel good as well and that is why I am so interested in exploring ingredients, preparing meals, and finding ways to make the whole cooking experience fun and exciting! Being a blogger for MyGreatRecipes unites my two passions – food and writing, and I am enjoying every second of it!