Pavlova, light as a ballerina

Pavlova… an airy and delicate dessert that brings Australia and New Zealand into conflict. Both countries claim that Pavlova comes from there. But what is its real country of origin? New evidence sheds light on this case. In our new sweet article we will look for the history and roots of pavlova and we will make our own impressive pavlova with light meringue and fresh fruit.

We learned that the dessert we will study  was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) who was famous when she toured in the 1920s. We read that her dance was so light that they said she did not dance, but flied high with her wings. Anna Pavlova was a superstar of the time. Various dishes were named after her. In France there were frog legs à la Pavlova and in America Pavlova ice cream.

In Australia, Pavlova is said to have been created by chef Herbert “Bert” Sachse at the Perth’s Esplanade Hotel in 1935. It was named after hotel manager Harry Nairn when he noticed that the dessert was as light as Pavlova. Sachse describes how he was asked to make something different and unique. So he thought of making a cake that was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. After a month of experimentation and many failures, he invented the recipe that survives to this day.

The Esplanade Hotel in Perth, 1890s (source)

In New Zealand, it is claimed that the cake was made by a chef at a hotel in Wellington, the capital of the country, during the famous ballerina’s only tour in 1926. The inspiration is said to have been the skirt of a ballerina. In New Zealand, the first mention of pavlova is in the 1927 cookbook of Davis Dainty Dishes. But this dessert did not contain meringue – it was a multi-layered jelly, which also contained a layer of milk. New Zealanders claim that any reference to pavlova is proof that they invented the dessert, and that recipes for pavlova with meringue appeared very soon.

The first published recipe with the name of the ballerina (source)

But the latest research from New Zealander Dr. Andrew Paul Wood and Australian Annabelle Utrecht shows that its real roots are in Germany and America! In their research they found more than 150 recipes for sweets with meringue, which were very similar to Pavlova, all published before 1926 and the ballerina’s tour.

One of the first recipes that researchers found was a cake with meringue, cream and fruit called Spanische Windtorte, which was especially loved by the Austrian Hapsburgs in the 18th century. Similar recipes were brought to America by German immigrants. In German-speaking countries, in aristocratic cuisines one would find large compositions with meringue, cream and fruit. Soon, women in middle-class kitchens were making meringue with fruit or nuts on top. Until 1860, pavlova-like sweets were found in Britain, Russia and North America.

Modern Spanische Windtorte by Mary Berry (source)

In fact, Wood and Utrecht speculate that the pavlova recipe may have reached Australia and New Zealand on the back of a corn flour package. For researchers, neither country has the right to claim pavlova, since they did not first create the recipe and were not even the first to name the cake in honor of the ballerina – there is a recipe for “strawberries pavlova” of 1911. But we must recognize that the two countries have maintained the popularity of the sweet to this day, while other recipes with the name of the ballerina were limited to the era of her glory.

Contemporary strawberries pavlova by researcher Annabelle Utrecht (source)

In confectionery, as in art in general, there is no parthenogenesis. There is an ongoing process of evolution, variation and transformation. So, we may not be able to find the country that gave birth to Pavlova, but we can make one and enjoy it!

Our recipe

Pavlova

Ingredients for Pavlova

Egg whites3
Sugar175 gr
Vinegar1 tsp
Corn flour1 tsp
Heavy cream300 ml
Strawberry extract (optional)1/2 tsp
Fruit (kiwis and blackcurrants)
The ingredients for the baked meringue that we will make.

How to make the Pavlova

Put the egg whites in the mixer bucket and start beating them on medium speed. Once they become foamy, slowly add half the sugar.

Mix the vinegar and the corn flour with the rest of the sugar and add them to the egg whites. Once the egg whites become a tight meringue, stop beating.

Spread the meringue in a pan forming a disk, making a nest in the center (to put the whipped cream and fruit). To make the disk shape you can draw a circle with a pencil on the parchment paper and place it upside down in your pan. We had a silicone surface with designed circles so we did not need parchment paper.

The silicone surface has designed circles.

Bake in a preheated oven at 150°C for one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside to cool.

Whip the cream, adding the strawberry extract. Cut your fruits – if you use frozen, thaw them. We used fresh kiwis and frozen blackcurrants.

If you want, flavor the whipped cream with strawberry extract.
Cut the kiwis into slices…
…and thaw the blackcurrants.

When the meringue has cooled, fill it with the whipped cream and fruit, at most one hour before serving.

The shell is ready!
Fill with whipped cream…
…and fruit!

When we tried our Pavlova it was fantastic, crunchy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside. An airy sweet worthy of its name… Enjoy all and everyone!

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