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April 25, 2011

While you and I have been struggling to finish our taxes, the Australians and the New Zealanders have been continuing the fight over which nation invented  pavlova, the graceful, light, and airy dessert created in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s visit to Oceania in the ’20s or ’30s.

It’s the sort of argument that never goes away, much like the one you may remember from an innocent visit to Belgium, when you may have been cornered, and forced to eat frites, and been the recipient of a highly defensive lecture whose thesis statement was that frites are not, in fact, an invention of the scheming, bald-faced liars to the South.

Travel and the associated arguments may be tiring, but pavlova is perfect.

The first time I had it was when a New Zealander friend of my sister’s came to stay with our family when I was still in high school. Kesia brought her a bright smile, her beguiling accent, and a desire to share her country’s national dessert with our family, who is always up for more national desserts.

I’ll eat anything with meringue — baked alaska, lemon meringue pie, etc. — but I know that to some people, meringue doesn’t seem such a transcendant concept.

Those might also be the people who also hate Peeps.

“Will your parents eat a dessert that is not chocolate?,” I queried of my husband, on the occasion of their most recent trip.

“Why would we bother to find that out?” he wondered.

I decided to do some scientific inquiry.

Pavlova is a meringue topped by cream, strawberries, kiwis, and whatever else you might desire in the fruit world. The meringue is altered by the slight presence of vinegar. Wow! That sounds creepy but it’s exactly the sort of aspect that makes a perfect and pure substance, such as meringue, actually interesting.

I tried this recipe, copied from the Food Network and originally appearing in Gale Gand’s book Butter Sugar Flour Eggs. I followed it “to a ‘t,'”,though I forgot to have the egg whites at room temperature, and used dark brown sugar rather than light. I also used blackberries in addition to other fruit. I’m not going to say that the meringue didn’t shatter a bit. It did, but all was forgiven when we tasted it.

The answer to my question was “yes, the in-laws eat desserts that aren’t chocolate when they are presented with desserts that are not chocolate.”

And it was even better the next day.



  • 1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature (from about 4 eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
  • kiwi fruits, peeled and thinly sliced or 1 cup of another ripe fruit, such as peaches or nectarines
  • 10 strawberries, green parts trimmed off, thinly sliced or other berries, such as raspberries or blackberries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), whip the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a clean, dry bowl until foamy. Add the granulated sugar, cornstarchvinegar, and vanilla and continue whipping until stiff, smooth and glossy, about 8 minutes more. On a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit a sheet pan, use a pencil to draw or trace a circle 9-inches in diameter. Line the sheet pan with the parchment, pencil side down (you should still be able to see the circle). Spoon the egg whites into the circle, using the back of the spoon to smooth the top and sides of the disk. Bake in the center of the oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until the meringue has puffed up and cracked on the top and the surface is lightly browned to the color of cafe au lait, about 45 minutes more. Turn off the oven, prop the oven door open, and let the pavlova cool in the oven at least 30 minutes, to room temperature. This ensures a gradual cooling, which protects the delicate meringue.

Whip the cream and brown sugar together until stiff. Spoon it in the center of the cooled pavlova and spread out to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Arrange the slices of kiwi around the edge. Arrange the slices of strawberry in the middle. To serve, slice into wedges with a serrated knife.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. charlotte permalink
    April 25, 2011 1:52 pm

    It was superb! Thanks much for the recipe.

  2. Michelle permalink
    April 27, 2011 3:22 pm

    The only thing I didn’t understand was “forced to eat frites”. It must have been an extremely fake and flimsy resistance to the frites that legitimized the use of the word “force”. And the lecture was totally worth it – being inaudible because of the chewing of the frites.

    I’ve always wanted to try making a Pavlova. An Australian friend served me one, and an accompanying lecture. The Pavlova was delicious, and the lecture, well, I couldn’t hear that one either because of the chewing.

    Now I can make my own, invent a lecture, and serve them both! Yea Meredith! Yea experiments on in-laws!

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