Pavlova | Passionfruit Curd | Seasonal Berries
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.