Updated: Aug 28, 2022
What is a Pavlova?
Pavlova is an Australian dessert that is made by whisking together egg whites, sugar, acid and corn-starch. It is similar to a meringue but the difference is the outer layer is crunchy with a spongy and fluffy centre.
A typical meringue will contain only purely sugar and egg whites with a ratio of 1 part egg whites to 1.5 to 2 parts fine granulated sugar. As the meringue bakes in the low heat oven for a long period of time, the hygroscopic nature of sugar will draw the water out from the egg whites as it bakes, that is when the meringue starts to dry out and become crispy.
Pavlova on the other hand still obtains a crispiness on the outer shell layer but maintains a soft centre by the addition of corn flour. Corn flour functions to hold on to some of the water that the sugar draws out from the egg whites, keeping the moisture from drying out entirely and turn it to a soft marshmallow centre.
How do you serve pavlova?
Pavlova are often baked as a large dollop with a dip centre to hold the fillings. Because the dessert itself is predominantly made up of sugar, they are usually served with cream and fruits. You can even serve them with curd and chocolate.
Difference between a Pavlova and a Meringue
Both Pavlova and meringue are made the same way: which is from whisking egg whites with sugar with some stabiliser and then baked. In fact, any product made from whisking egg whites and sugar is called meringue.
In terms of a final product, Meringue and Pavlova is actually two different thing but from the same family. Meringue usually has a hard crispy shell with a hard crispy centre. Pavlova on the other hand has the same haircut as its cousin: a hard shell but has a soft cloud centre.
What makes Pavlova's interior much different from meringue, even though the composition are the same in terms of ratios of sugar and egg whites is that pavlova has added corn flour or corn starch added to it. Read further to find out why.
Stabilizer and Acid
To make a light, fluffy and shiny meringue that do not split during whisking, use a stabilizer that is easily available in most kitchen pantry. One of the most common egg white stabilizer are cream of tartar, lemon juice and vinegar.
Cream of tartar or other acids stabilizes meringue by lowering the pH level of the egg whites. Lowered pH egg whites may take slightly longer to whip compared to egg whites that do not contain any stabilizing acids, but the slow whipping time assist in preventing the meringue from being overwhipped and splitting too quickly and easily. Acid also helps prevent the air pockets in the meringue from collapsing during baking.
The amount of cream of tartar required in a meringue is as little as 1/8 teaspoon every egg white and egg whites from an egg usually sits around 30 - 35 g in weigh. Adding too much acid in to your meringue can leave a sourly taste so it is not necessary to go to town with them.
Note that you if you are using liquid acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, fold them in once you have achieved a stiff peak into your meringue. If you are using cream of tartar, you can add them straight into the egg whites during whisking.
Difference between corn flour and corn starch
Corn flour and corn starch derives from the same source: Corn. The only difference between the two is that corn flour is made from the whole corn kernels pulverised to a powder, whereas corn starch comes from only the starchy part of the corn kernels. This makes corn flour a half flour half starch containing more proteins and minerals as oppose to corn starch which is pretty much just carbs.
Corn flour is sometimes also used for baking breads and pastries where corn starch are often only used as a thickening agent in cooking and baking.
Function of Corn Flour for pavlova
Corn flour or corn starch has the ability to absorb water and thickens when they come in to contact with one another. When the corn starch and water mixture (Obleck) are heated, the molecules in the corn starch starts to swell and consume even more of the liquid that is present around them. This is the reason why meringue added with corn flour or corn starch has a soft pillowy centre that do not dry out like a meringue would because the corn starch are holding on to the water in the egg whites.
Substitute for Corn Flour
If you don't have corn flour in your pantry, substitutes like Wheat flour, potato starch and rice starch can be used instead.
When to start adding sugar to the whisking meringue?
When adding sugar into the whisking egg whites, ensure to allow the egg whites to foam until it reaches a soft to medium peak. This is when there are no signs of watery egg whites and the mixture is light airy mixture that still look really soft, much like a foam. Add in the sugar at this point a spoonful at a time and allow each addition of sugar to dissolve before adding more.
The trick to adding sugar into the whisking egg whites is to add in the additions of sugar without deflating the egg whites. If you can see that the meringue starts to deflate slightly, it means that you are adding too much and at that point, do not add any more and allow the meringue to maintain its structure again before adding the sugar again.
If you add too much sugar at once this can put weight on the nice air pockets you have so patiently tried to achieve and can cause the air pockets to deflate causing the make up of the meringue to have more free running sugar syrup with less air pocket which can cause weeping in your pavlova during baking because the meringue is less stable.
When whisking the egg whites, after you have added all of the sugar, you want to continue whisking on medium speed until you have achieved a stiff peak. To check if your meringue is ready, dip the whisk into the meringue and lift it up. The tip of your whisk should have a peak from the meringue and does not fold over too quickly. Pinch a small amount of the meringue and it should not feel grainy.
Grainy meringue will cause the pavlova to weep during baking or have a granular surface after drying out in the oven.
Medium speed and not high speed when whisking meringue
Because the amount of sugar added into a meringue is relatively high (usually 2:1 ratio to egg whites), you want to be able to whisk the egg whites for a longer period of time whilst adding the sugar. Whisking over high speed can cause the egg whites to reach stiff peak too soon before the sugar has the time to dissolve. Undissolved sugar granules can cause the pavlova to leak out from the oven during drying in the oven.
How do I know if I have over whisked my egg whites?
You will know that you have over whisked your egg whites if it passes the stiff peak and starts to separate into clumps. In sever cases, water will start to separate from the egg white clumps and you will see a pool of water in your meringue.
What happens if I under whisked my egg whites and bake the pavlova anyway?
Under whisked egg whites runs the risk of the egg foams in the meringue not having enough time to stabilize and if you are making a domed pavlova and not a roulade, it is unlikely to hold its shape and may collapse during baking. Because the meringue doesn't have enough time to stabilise from the addition of sugar, baking an under whipped meringue can cause for it to leak out excess water that was unable to be bounded by the sugar due to under mixing. This will result in a soggy centre pavlova.
Can I fix over whisked egg whites?
If your meringue is not severely over whisked, you can actually fix it by adding in fresh egg whites in to the meringue and gently whisk until they are no longer separated. In most cases, it is best that you start the meringue from the fresh batch of recipe for the insurance of a stable meringue.
Ensure that you gradually sprinkle in the sugar while making the meringue
If you have made other types of meringue before, it is almost like a rule 101 that you never dump the whole lot of sugar into a whisking egg whites. One of the tips to a successful meringue is to whisk the egg whites until they are light and airy with no signs of watery egg whites left before gradually sprinkling in the sugar . Always ensure that you start whisking egg whites on low to medium speed so that the bubble are all similar in sizes. Whisking the whites at an earlier stage on a high speed can creates air pockets that are too irregular sizes and this can cause the meringue to rise irregularly and the bigger air pocket will burst and collapse during baking.
Once the egg whites are foamed with no sign of watery whites present, gradually sprinkle in the sugar a little at a time. Adding the sugar a little at a time will allow the sugar to fully dissolve and if you add too much sugar too fast, the density of the sugar can weigh down the air pockets that you created at the beginning causing it to lose its volume. if sugar are not given enough time to whisked in the whites will cause residue of undissolved sugar. Undissolved sugar in the meringue will will in turn cause the pavlova to seep after they are baked, which is not ideal.
Pavlova is actually dried, not baked
Pavlova is actually dried in the oven rather than baked since the whole idea is to place the assembled pavlova in the oven at a low temperature but hot enough to pasteurise the egg whites until all the free water in the egg whites have dried out.
Bake low and slow
Depending on the thickness of your meringue, baking time can vary. The best guideline is to bake it low and slow and check every now and then making sure that you do not open the oven door too early. For this recipe, pre heat the oven with a slightly higher temperature of 130°C then right before placing the pavlova into the oven, turn it down to between 100- 90 °C.
Baking the pavlova at a temperature that is lower than the ones recommended may cause the pavlova to "weep" - having a pool of syrup at the base - during baking since the egg whites is not able to coagulate fast enough to hold on to the sugar syrup in the meringue, causing the sugar syrup to start seeping out or escaping from the bottom.
Bake the pavlova for 90 minutes to 2 hours, then turn off the heat with the door slightly ajar to slowly cool for at least 2 hours. If you are running short of time, you can bake the meringue the night before and simply leave them in the oven to cool overnight.
The secret is that it is safer to baker for longer than not enough.
Old versus fresh egg whites
A lot of meringue recipes call for older egg whites because of the way it could whip up more in volume in a shorter amount of time. Although fresh egg whites are denser and do not whisk up as much in volume and takes longer to whisk, it is however more stable than older egg whites. If you are making meringue for the volume, older egg whites are always recommended but if you are looking for stability, fresher egg whites is the one to choose.
For the purpose of making pavlova, fresh egg whites are much preferred.
Can I still use my pavlova if it has some leaks after drying?
If the centre is not entirely soggy, some leaks are unavoidable, for example if you are making them on a humid day. As long as it still have the outer crunchiness and a soft marshmallow centre, it is still good to use.
All Pavlova after being assembled with cream and fruits or curds need to be consumed immediately, very much like an ice-cream or they will become softer in texture over time.
Unless if you are selling the pavlova case for a business, it is crucial that they are dried enough in the oven and for the same reason, try to avoid making them on humid days.
Yield: 1 x 160 mm pavlova
Cooking Time: 2 hours, dry overnight in the oven
Preparation Time: 1 hour
150 g Egg Whites
245 g Caster Sugar
7 g Corn Flour
7 g White Vinegar
100 g Passionfruit Puree
120 g Egg Yolks
1 Zest Of lemons
200 g Caster Sugar
80 g Unsalted Butter
2 g 1 sheet Gelatine Sheets - softened
*There will be some leftover passionfruit curd from this recipe. Reserved in jars and keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
125 g Passionfruit Puree
55 g Caster Sugar
80 g Water
2 tsp Gelatine Powder
*There will be leftover passionfruit jelly from this recipe, store in fridge for other applications for up to 3 weeks.