“Please bring your Pavlova’, is the request I get from my hosts when I offer to contribute to their summer gatherings. My signature seasonal confection hails from Australia, and features a rich, pillowy meringue base, with a crisp shell and a soft interior topped with cream and fruit. It was invented to honor the visit Down Under of ballerina Anna Pavlova, whose footwork was as light as air.
The traditional Aussie version is with passionfruit pulp and mango, and very excellent it is too. I create mine with a more North Fork flavor. From the first strawberries, through the poached pears of early fall, you will find a rotating cast of local fruit atop this magnificent confection.
Pictured here is a friend’s June strawberry birthday cake with a pansy, elderflower and rose garnish. For July 4th I have featured a red, white, and blue tribute. Feel free to get as inventive as you like with your designs and flags and flowers.
I hope you enjoy this firecracker finale at your holiday celebration!
Red, White and Blue Pavlova
Making a pavlova may seem a little daunting, but if you follow a few easy steps, you should master it in no time.
Do not worry if your base cracks a bit or sinks. You can always disguise any flaws with the cream, fruit, and garnish to make an impressive finale to your meal.
I make a lot of ice cream, resulting in a ready supply of egg whites, which I store in the fridge for up to two days or freeze in small containers. Egg whites freeze extremely well. Take care when separating from the yolks. The smallest trace of yolk in the white will prevent the meringue from thickening.
Bring eggs to room temperature before starting. There is a debate about using fresh versus older eggs, but I have had excellent results using both.
Use superfine sugar and make sure it is dissolved before adding the next increment. If the sugar is not dissolved, it can cause the meringue to weep sugar syrup. This only affects the flavor and not the taste.
Mix mascarpone cheese and cream to achieve a more robust filling than the traditional whipped cream. It will enable you to assemble your desert further in advance.
Do not overbeat the mixture. When it reaches peak gloss and thickness, stop! The mixture will become dry, and the sugar will separate if you overmix. To avoid this, I use a hand electric beater to have more control over the texture.
Moisture is the enemy of meringue. In humid weather, try to make it early in the morning or with the air con cranked up! Store the base in an airtight container until ready to assemble.
Speed is of the essence. Once your meringue has reached stiff peaks, waste little time in adding the vanilla, vinegar, and cornstarch, with the minimal of whisking to keep the air bubbles. Once the pavlova is shaped, it should immediately be placed in the oven.
Feel free to use herbs and flowers from your garden, as long as they are of the edible variety and are grown without pesticides or herbicides. Sprigs of rosemary, mint, and basil pair well with bright nasturtiums. All manner of geraniums and roses and calendula are fine choices too.
8 egg whites
2 cups superfine sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1½ tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1½ tsp. natural vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Cover a half sheet pan with baking parchment, (you can anchor the corners with a dab of the meringue mixture). Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in a large clean bowl and make sure the beaters of your electric mixture are scrupulously clean also. With your mixer on half speed, beat the eggs whites until they are foamy. Start to add the sugar in small increments, beating until it is fully dissolved. As you add the sugar, the mixture will increase in volume and become white and glossy. Continue adding sugar until it is all incorporated, and beat until the mixture is very thick and forms stiff peaks. At this stage, if you inverted the bowl, the mixture would stay in place.
Sieve the cornstarch over the top of the mixture and sprinkle over the vinegar and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly and quickly on low speed. Using a rubber spatula, pile the mixture into the middle of the baking sheet and shape into an 8-inch round, smoothing and building up the sides.
Place in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 240 degrees. Bake undisturbed for one hour and 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven until completely cool.
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Place the mascarpone in a heavy bowl and beat, using an electric mixer, until creamy. Gradually add the heavy cream until the mixture is the texture of a thick mousse. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for up to two hours.
The Fruit and Assembly
By July 4, the local strawberries are usually just a memory, but see below for an early spring variation. I use blueberries and raspberries to get the vibrant colors needed to honor our flag.
3 cups of blueberries, washed and dried
3 cups of raspberries, washed and dried
Red and blue edible, organically grown flowers for decoration (optional)
(I used organically grown shrub roses from my garden)
Carefully peel the parchment paper off the cooled meringue and place on a serving plate or cake stand. Spread the mascarpone cream filling evenly over the base, covering up any cracks or indentations. Place the red and blue berries in a decorative pattern over the cream and refrigerate until ready to serve, but for no more than about 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator and garnish with flowers, petals and herbs if using. If you do not have room to store it in the refrigerator, assemble it at the last minute.