"To pavlova, or not to pavlova" is a dilemma many people face in the lead-up to Christmas – well, at least Down Under, that is! Pavlova is an all-time favorite in NZ and Australia, and is a great-tasting dessert that is enjoyable any time of year. 

Come Christmas, though, nothing beats a pavlova topped with whipped cream and assorted fruit, and eating it with the people whom you most love, trust and adore. By the beach, near the barbecue or accompanied with a plateful of jelly (jello) or trifle, it's time to bring out the pavlova and leave the fruit cake behind!

Photo of decorated pavlova dessert with kiwifruit, strawberries and passionfruitCredit: Hazel Fowler / Wikimedia Commons / PD

So, what is pavlova?

Pavlova is a soft, pale-colored dessert named after the famous and beautiful Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Conceived by chef, Herbert Sachse, it was first made in an Australian hotel in 1935, in memory of the ballerina's visit to Perth in 1929, and has since become the traditional dessert fare of both Australia and New Zealand. 

Best described as a giant, super fluffy-puffy meringue, pavlova is the easiest of desserts to accessorize with fruit and/or candy (eg marshmallows, gummy bears, wine gums and other soft jelly type sweets), even flaked chocolate – if you dare.

Edible cake decorations are another fun, exciting possibility. Colored novelty sprinkles, chocolate hail and/or rainbow hundreds & thousands, can make any pavlova look spectacular at Christmas time. Just you wait and see!

A store-bought New Zealand pavlova decorated with wine gums, strawberry and creamCredit: DO'Neil / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 license

What fruit is good to eat with pavlova?

Berries are the wisest choice when it comes to complementing your pavlova. Strawberries, in particular, are highly popular in the southern hemisphere and are delicious, either in mixed variation with other berries or on their lonesome. 

Usually sourced fresh, canned or frozen fruit are a valid alternative to use and sometimes the only option when certain fruits are not in season during the Christmas period.

Suitable fruit toppings for this divine dessert:

•  strawberries
•  raspberries
•  blackberries
•  boysenberries
•  blueberries
•  blackcurrants
•  mango
•  papaya
•  pineapple chunks
•  peaches
•  nectarines
•  apricots
•  plums
•  pitted cherries
•  sliced kiwifruit, or
•  passionfruit pulp.

A photo of a layered pavlova with assorted berriesCredit: Blake Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Strawberry and Blackberry Pavlova recipe

Dessert Ingredients:

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup of super-fine (caster) sugar
3 teaspoons of cornstarch (cornflour)
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar

Decorative Ingredients:

1 cup of freshly whipped cream
250 grams of fresh blackberries, washed and whole
250 grams of fresh strawberries, washed and halved 

Serves: max. 8 people

A photo of a pavlova with strawberries and blackberriesCredit: Blake Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Recipe Instructions

Baking time and temperature = 40 minutes @ 150oc (300oF)

  1. Preheat your oven to specified temperature and line one oven tray with unwaxed baking paper – no oil, no butter. On the sheet of paper, draw an 8 inch (20 cm) circle lightly in pencil, and put aside.

  2. Place the four egg whites into a large mixing bowl – ceramic or stainless steel are preferable. Use an electric mixer or beaters to beat the egg whites until they are white and foamy, and soft peaks are beginning to form on top of the mixture. 

  3. Gradually add the sugar – a little bit at a time – and beat thoroughly after each addition. Beat between five to ten minutes until the sugar has dissolved. (One way of testing this is to feel for an 'gritty' sensation between your finger tips when touching a small portion of the mixture.) By now, the mixture should be divinely thick and glossy.

  4. Time to gently stir in the corn starch and vinegar – easy does it. Spoon the white meringue mixture onto the baking paper previously put aside with the tray. If possible, stay within the marked circle – this will give the pavlova a nice, uniform shape. Smooth your still-to-be-cooked meringue dessert with a flat knife, making sure the edges and the top are flat and even.

  5. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and cook for the required amount of time. Remove the pavlova when it appears to be pale and crisp, or until the 40 minutes is fully up – your choice. Following that, turn off your oven and leave the door ajar so the pavlova can cool naturally on its own.

  6. Time to decorate! Once cold, feel free to spread dollops and dollops of whipped cream all over the top and/or sides. Arrange the halved strawberries and whole blackberries across, along and all around.

  7. You now have a marvellous dessert fit for a king or queen (or ballet dancer!)

Close up of pavlova with berriesCredit: Blake Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 license

'Insider' know-how for making a great pavlova 

Follow the above recipe to the letter, and you will quite rightly have something worth serving up (and possibly, screaming about) at your Christmas dinner table this year. If you would like to make the two-layered version, as pictured above, just double the mixture and repeat instructions twice.

Some helpful baking advice:

  • While you set about separating the eggs for this dessert, do your best to avoid leaving egg yolk in the egg whites. Purity of ingredients is always key when it comes to pavlova making – no exceptions.
  • Admittedly, it takes some work to make, so don't let yourself down from the outset with faulty or sloppy preparation. Cleanliness of cooking utensils is important. Make sure your bowls are clean and dry beforehand, and prepare in advance.

  • When baking your pavlova, it pays to remember that – just like polar bears – they, too prefer low temperatures. Make your oven too hot and it is liable to wind up black instead of white!

  • In case your pavlova turns out cracked and ugly after baking, have no fear. Indiscrepancies can be effortlessly hidden under copious amounts of cream and no one will know the difference. (That's the next best thing about making this dessert – after eating it!)

  • If worse comes to worse, and your pavlova emerges from the depths of your oven as an inedible, messy, sticky, beige blob, a visit to your local supermarket is in order. It is possible, at least where I live, to buy several flavors, already baked, boxed and waiting for decoration, in a variety of sizes.

    Whether large, medium or small, strawberry, vanilla or fruit salad flavored, pavlovas are the must-have dessert this season. Time to get baking!

PS: If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out. I look forward to your comments below.