Pavlova is a classic dessert with meringue, whipped cream and fruit — but for me, it’s more than that. There’s something about it that’s ethereal but also chaotic. Pavlovas are always like a sweet reminder to myself: a little chaos can be a beautiful thing! The mess is interesting! There’s even something a little ugly about it that I’ve come to love.
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 like my pavlova. I make pavlova for my nice neighbors who bring our trash in every Friday morning. I’m making pavlova so my dessert-loving brother can enjoy something that isn’t chocolate cake. And I make myself pavlova when I’m feeling particularly happy that day or, more importantly, when I’m feeling sad.
On days when I’m emotional, my pavlovas get chaotic. Dark berry juice drips down the sides, creating puddles of sweetness; fluffy whipped cream is heaped haphazardly; the top is speckled 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 sweet flavors.
But no matter the mood, there’s something I cherish about the way the spoon sounds when I dip into the pavlova. The silent crunch of the meringue is satisfying and validating, as if saying: It’s something sweet for you, it’s for you.
A few notes: For the meringue, make sure your mixing bowl is clean without a layer of grease. Any kind of grease in your mixing bowl will also prevent the egg whites from rising (egg whites can be finicky.) At the very end, 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 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup berries (any kind)
2 tablespoons of sugar
The zest of half a lemon
Whipped cream (or store bought is fine)
1 cup cold heavy whipped cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/4 cup macerated 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 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh fruit (cherries, berries, sliced stone fruit, figs, anything!)
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks. (Make sure there are no egg yolks in your whites or they won’t form stiff peaks.) Pour the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a mixer over stand or mixing bowl. Whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed. They will become frothy and then slowly become more and more opaque and stiff. At this point, slowly pour in your sugar, then let it run on medium-high speed for another 10 minutes. At about 9 minutes, add the extract and salt. After 10 minutes, your egg whites should form stiff peaks, which means that if you turn the mixing bowl upside down, nothing should drip.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the meringue in the middle, shaping it with a rubber spatula or spoon to create a small pool-shaped indent in the center. (This is where you’ll add your whipped cream and berries after baking.)
Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.
While cooking, prepare the berry compote: Add the berries, sugar, 1 tbsp water and lemon zest to a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring the mixture occasionally. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the fruit has broken down and the compote looks like jam and comes off, remove from the heat. Cool completely.
Optional: Make your own whipped cream. Add the heavy whipping cream to a clean mixing bowl and whip on medium-high speed. As soon as the cream begins to thicken, add the powdered sugar, the macerated berries, the extract and the pinch of salt. (If you want a mixture of colored whipped cream and plain whipped cream, whip half the cream separately without the berries.) Whip until you can form stiff peaks or until it is the consistency that you like. Just be sure not to over mix or it will turn into butter!
Once the pavlova has cooled, transfer it to a serving platter, then begin assembling. Add a line of whipped cream in the center, then a drizzle of compote and fresh fruit. Or do what your mood tells you to do: it’s time to make your pavlova as chaotic and beautiful as you want!
ethaney lee is a home cook who enjoys cooking for herself, her loved ones and people in her community. She lives with her boyfriend, Jeremy, and their Taiwanese rescue dog, Cleo, in Berkeley, California. You can find his photos and thoughts at instagram.
(Photos of ethaney lee.)