"the world's greatest pudding" Stuart Heritage/The Guardian
"I do feel like passionfruit and Pav is just quintessentially Aussie!"
Nagi Maehashi/Recipe Tin Eats
Well that 'world's greatest pudding' epithet is from an Englishman not an Australian, so we must be doing the right thing mustn't we? And honestly pavlova never fails. You don't even have to make the meringue base yourself. Every supermarket has a range of them. And they are pretty good.
This one is not bought - it's from Nagi Maehashi of Recipe Tin Eats and she calls it Pavlova Christmas Tree. There are lots of other cutesy versions out, but hers did look particularly Christmassy.
I think before I came to Australia I had no idea about pavlovas. I knew about meringue, either as the topping on lemon meringue pie or as small ones sandwiched together with some kind of sweet creamy filling. But as a sort of cake thing - no. But here in Australia I began encountering them - most usually at barbecues and like just about everyone else in the world I was won over. And Nagi is right - you need passionfruit. Indeed I'd tempted to say that passionfruit and banana make the best combination. The passionfruit cuts through the sweetness of it all.
But is it an Australian thing or is it really from New Zealand? Apparently we both claim it. And there is no definitive answer in spite of people writing whole, thoroughly researched books on the topic. General opinion seems to agree that it was named for Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina who was most famous for her interpretation of the dying swan in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. And from the picture you can see why the meringue got its name. She toured Australia and New Zealand too I think in 1926. However, whether someone invented something for her or whether something was renamed nobody knows. As Matthew Evans says:
"People have been doing meringue with cream for a long time, I don't think Australia or New Zealand were the first to think of doing that."
Helen M. Leach who wrote that book about the pavlova says that the:
“preferred, more diplomatic conclusion is that we are dealing with a case of convergent cultural evolution.” Helen M. Leach
or as Wikipedia, even more pompously says:
"published recipes reveal the complex process of "social invention" with practical experience circulating, under a variety of names, across both countries. For example, Australians beat New Zealanders to create an accepted pavlova recipe as the 'Meringue Cake'. The illusion of some singular invention can be explained by distinguishing a second, associated level of "social construction", in which cooks, eaters and writers attach a name and myths to produce a widely-held concept that appears so deceptively distinct that it must have had a definite moment of creation." Wikipedia
Middle Europe - home of luscious cakes might be the precursor, Not England though I suspect. I suppose the fact that Felicity Cloake did one of her 'perfect' articles on it, assumes that the English are into them as well. But definitely not for Christmas and to be honest her perfect version doesn't look right. It's just too - beige. Mind you the fruit is gooseberries which might, in fact, be the perfect match for that very sweet base. After all gooseberry fool is divine - possibly my 'best dessert in the world'.
I have tried few times to make a pavlova. With complete lack of success. They just ended up chewy, which is not the texture you are after. And even the experts seem to think its tricky.
“Anything that has just a few ingredients is nightmarishly hard – because it’s technique only, you can’t put micro herbs on it and hope it’s OK.” Alistair Wise - Pastry chef
At the other end of the spectrum however, you have those who tell you it's easy - if you do what they say. Like Nagi Maehashi whose Recipe Tin Eats version is shown here - a very typical Australian pavlova by the way. She is at her bouncy best in her introduction, simultaneously encouraging and mildly alarming with her long list of tips, dos and don'ts. The tips followed this (ten of them):
"Pavlova is one of those desserts that is notoriously easy yet notoriously difficult. I think many people are scared to make it. Others have lamented that you should just accept that it will come out of the oven quite cracked.
Though I’m going to be sharing my tips for a perfect near-flawless pav (including a few you may have never heard of before!), first up, let me be clear about one thing – it does not matter if it cracks!! Even if it cracks severely.
Just do your best to piece it back together, using cream as a glue and to hide the worst cracks. It only needs to hold together for you to place it on the table, for everyone to ooh and ah over it, for you to have your moment of glory.
The minute it gets cut to serve it up, it doesn’t matter. Even a perfect pav looks like a mess once it starts being served!" Nagi Maehashi
Mind you she did have one piece of advice which rang true.
"BE GENTLE when topping the Pav! Hanging my head in shame. I once tipped a bowl of strawberries on a Pav and watched in dismay as it sank. Place the topping on gently by hand." Nagi Maehshi
There are, of course countless recipes online but here I am going to concentrate on Coles - sorry but in this very Christmassy Christmas edition they had a whole section dedicated to pavlova. Woolworths had just one somewhat feeble looking one. I think the majority of the Coles offerings included making the pavlova, but they - and Woolworths - have several different bases in store - including the in-fashion wreath. So you can cheat pretty easily.
Chocolate swirl pavlova with raspberries and cream; Tropical pavlova wreath; Mango and passionfruit pavlova wreath - this one from Curtis Stone; Persian-style mini pavlovas; Summer berries 'n' ice cream pavlova - this one is a cheat's version. Everything off the shelf.
No we are not having pavlova for dessert this year. Well I don't think so. My sister is doing dessert. Last year, however I did sort of do a pavlova. It was an Ottolenghi recipe Brown sugar meringue roulade with burnt honey apples. Now it doesn't really count as a pavlova, and the cracks just added to the charm, but I have to say I was quite chuffed. I probably bragged about it then. Only problem was it was just too much, and we failed to eat all of the leftovers before it went off! It was very rich. But if you are cooking for a crowd have go.
So yes - pavlova is Australian Christmas cake.