Pavlova is a classic dessert with meringue, whipped cream and fruit — but for me it’s more than that. There is something about it that is ethereal but also chaotic. Pavlovas always feel like a gentle reminder to myself: a little chaos can be a beautiful thing! Mass unit is interesting! There is something even slightly ugly about it that I have come to adore.
In my everyday life, I make pavlova when friends come over and I want to show them that I missed them. I make pavlova for dinner parties when I’m worried no one will like my cooking, but I know they will enjoy my pavlova. I make pavlova for my sweet neighbors who bring in our trash every Friday morning. I make pavlova to get my dessert picky brother to appreciate something that isn’t chocolate cake. And I make pavlova for myself when I’m feeling particularly happy that day, or more importantly, when I’m sad.
On days when I’m emotional, my pavlovas become chaotic. Dark berry juice trickles down the sides, creating pools of sweetness; pillowy whipped cream is haphazardly dipped on; the top is freckled with crushed pistachios and fruit, testing the strength of the meringue. And on days when I feel in love with the world, my pavlovas are playful – all soft colors and gentle flavors.
But whatever the mood, there’s something I appreciate about the sound of the spoon as it scoops into the pavlova. The quiet crunch of the meringue is satisfying and validating, as if to say: This is something sweet for you to enjoy, it’s for you.
A few notes: For the meringue, make sure your mixing bowl is very clean without a lick of grease. Any kind of fat in your mixing bowl will also prevent egg whites from whipping (egg whites can be fickle.) Lastly, to finish your pavlova, sprinkle with crushed pistachios or powdered sugar.
2 cold egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup berries (any kind)
2 tablespoons of sugar
Zest from half a lemon
Whipped cream (or store bought is fine)
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/4 cup soaked berries (mix 1/4 cup berries—sliced if using strawberries—with 2 teaspoons sugar, stirring every few minutes, until berries break down; about 30 minutes)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh fruit (cherries, berries, sliced stone fruit, figs, whatever!)
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. (Make sure there are no yolks in your whites or they won’t whip to stiff peaks.) Pour egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites on medium high speed. They will become frothy and then slowly become more and more opaque and stiff. At that point, slowly pour in your sugar, then let it run on medium high speed for another 10 minutes. After approx. After 9 minutes, add the extract and the salt. After 10 minutes, your egg whites should be in stiff peaks, meaning that if you turn the mixing bowl upside down, nothing should drip out.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scoop the meringue into the center, shaping it with a rubber spatula or spoon to create a small pool-like depression in the center. (This is where you add your whipped cream and berries after it’s baked.)
Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.
While it’s baking, make the berry compote: Add berries, sugar, 1 tablespoon water and lemon zest to a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. When the fruit has broken down and the compote looks jammy and loose, remove it from the heat. Cool completely.
Optional: Make your own whipped cream. Add the heavy whipping cream to a clean mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed. When the cream starts to thicken, add powdered sugar, soaked berries, extract and a pinch of salt. (If you want a mixture of colored whipped cream and regular whipped cream, whip half of the cream separately without the berries.) Whip until you can make stiff peaks, or until it’s the consistency you like. Just make sure not to mix too much or it will turn into butter!
Once the pavlova has cooled, transfer it to a serving dish and then start assembling it. Add a swoosh of whipped cream to the center, then a dollop of compote and fresh fruit. Or do whatever your mood tells you to do: This is the time to make your pavlova as chaotic and beautiful as you like!
Ethaney Lee is a home cook who loves to cook for herself, her loved ones and the people in her community. She lives with her boyfriend, Jeremy, and their Taiwanese rescue dog, Cleo, in Berkeley, California. You can find her pictures and thoughts on Instagram.
thank you Ethaney!
(Photos of Ethaney Lee.)