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Pavlova, Australia and New Zealand's Favorite Dessert
My family and I lived in Australia twice, and both times we enjoyed the Aussies' favorite dessert, Pavlova. It was on every dessert table down under. We had a party one night in our apartment in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. It was getting pretty loud with a lot of music, dancing and laughter. I had forewarned Ruth, our landlady, a lovely elderly Aussie woman about the party, but I was still concerned we might be disturbing her and her darling husband. Our apartment was attached to one side of their home. As the party got under way, there came a knock at the adjoining door to the owners' apartment. I swallowed hard and answered the door expecting a complaint. Instead, Ruth stood there with a big smile and a huge Pavlova in her arms - "I thought you might like this for your friends," she said. I was so touched. I asked her if she wanted to join us, but she just deferred and went back to her home. That's the kind of emotional attachment the country has to this dessert. It's not just food, it's a celebration!!!
The base for this delicious dish has quite a simple ingredient list, eggs, sugar, corn flour or corn starch, and vinegar. It's actually a glorified meringue, but the corn flour keeps the insides soft, so it ends up with a nice crusty surface and a marshmallow-like interior. Once you have the base cooked and cooled, you top it with whipped cream and then the sky's the limit what else you pile on. The traditional version we saw the most was bananas, mango slices, strawberries, Kiwi fruit and a drizzling of Passionfruit. Any fruits will work, and I've also had it with crumbled chocolate mints on top of the whipped cream, Decadence on a plate!
The Pavlova Dessert's Namesake
Both Australia and New Zealand claim to be the true ‘founders’ of this very famous dessert.
According to the Internet, "No one knows who first created the Pavlova. But the name, and Pavlova recipes, first began appearing soon after Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, toured the country in 1926. The dessert was obviously created in her honour. The first known published recipe was in E. Futter 1926 “Home Cookery for New Zealand”.
The Australian version is that Pavlova was invented in 1935 by cake chef Herbert Sachse of The Esplanade Hotel in Perth, Western Australia. It was created in honour of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who was visiting Australia at that time. Herbert Sachse wanted a dessert that was light and fluffy, symbolically representative of the ballerina.
However, that theory is disputed by Professor Helen Leach, a food historian at the University of Otago, who found the exact same Pavlova recipe in a 1929 New Zealand rural magazine. She also found a recipe for a pavlova cake in a New Zealand Rangiora Mothers' Union Cookery Book published in 1933. From her point of view, Pavlova recipes existed in New Zealand before the Australian claim in 1935."
Whatever! Let them fight about it - we'll just enjoy it.
- 4 Egg Whites, Room Temperature
- 1 Cup Fine Granulated Sugar, Pulse in Blender Briefly
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Corn flour or Corn Starch
- 1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
- Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Cut a round of baking paper or foil to size required 10”- 12” and dampen slightly. Beat egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until stiff and frothy. Gradually add sugar and beat until thick. Fold in sifted cornstarch and vinegar. Spread with a spoon onto prepared paper or foil, heaping slightly at edges. Place in oven for 10 minutes then turn oven down to 250 degrees F. and bake pavlova for 1 ½ to 2 hours. The pavlova should not brown. Cool in oven. Fill with sweetened whipped cream and either strawberries or a mixture of berries, bananas, kiwi fruit or drained, canned fruit. Also can be topped with chopped thin mints.