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Perfecting Pavlovas

Here are some tips for baking Meringues and Pavlovas.

Egg whites must be grease free in order for them to whip effectively to stiff peaks.  There must be no egg yolk in your egg white and your bowl and beaters must be very clean.

Some recipes say to use eggs at room temperature but you may find that cold egg whites whip better and faster.

Separating the egg white

  1. You can use egg separators if you want, but I find it easiest to crack the egg and use the two egg shell halves as containers to move the egg yolk back and forth, allowing the egg white to drop into a cup or bowl.  You can use a clean hand to hold the yolk and allow the white to pass between your fingers if that's easier for you.
  2. Separate the yolk from the white of each egg into a separate small bowl or cup before adding the white to the mixing bowl.  If you accidentally get any yolk into the white, set this egg aside for another recipe, clean out the cup and get another egg.

Beating Egg Whites

Don’t over whip your egg whites or they can collapse and you have to throw the lot out and start again.  Here's some information about the various stages of whipping.

  1. Frothy means like the head on a glass of beer. The bubbles hold together and are smaller than the suds in your washing up water. The mixture will be cloudy instead of clear. This is when you should add salt or cream of tartar. 
  2. The next stage is called soft peak.  If you lift the beaters out of the whites, you'll have peaks that sink back into the mixture. Soft peak stage is denser than "frothy" and you can start adding your sugar.
  3. At the firm peak stage, you can lift the beaters and the peaks won't sink back into the mixture which is shiny and moist looking. 
  4. Stiff peak is the final stage.  The beaten egg whites are very stiff and the meringue has gone beyond shiny to glossy. Continuing to beat will cause the mixture to collapse and you won't be able to recover it.

Preparing the Pavlova

The height of your pavlova will determine if you have a crisp shell or a pavlova with a marshmallow centre.  That means a 2 egg white mix spread over a 30cm circle will be thin and crispy.  A 6 egg white pav mix spread over the same size will have height and will be soft in the middle with a crisp outer shell.
  1. Think about what you are going to use as a serving platter for the pavlova and use it as a template.
  2. Line an oven tray with baking paper and draw a circle using your template.  Turn the paper over on the tray
  3. Grease the paper with spray oil or butter and dust with corn flour.  Remove any excess flour.
  4. Heap the egg whites onto the tray in the middle of your circle and using a spatula, encourage the mix to spread to the edges of the circle. 
  5. Form a lip at the edge of the circle so that you have a dip in the middle for the filling..

Baking the Pavlova

Baking your pavlova at night means it can stay in the oven over night to ensure it’s completely cool.  Just allow yourself enough time to prepare it and still be awake to turn the oven off before going to bed.  It will be ready to decorate in the morning.
  1. For a crisp shell, meringues need a short amount of time at high heat, followed by a longer cooking period of slow reduced heat.  The middle will still be soft but set.
  2. All ovens are different and if yours is efficient, it may hold the heat longer, so adjust your temperatures and times accordingly.

Decorating your Pavlova

The traditional way to decorate your pavlova is to whip some cream, spread it over the pav and decorate with seasonal fruit.  Strawberries or other berries look great.  Tropical fruit such as mango, passion fruit, banana (dipped in lemon juice), kiwifruit all add colour, taste and deliciousness.

Another idea is to use a thick home made custard instead of the cream.  Or try lemon spread.

What's gone wrong?

  1. There are syrupy droplets on the surface.  You have overcooked your pavlova.  Reduce the heat next time but you can still enjoy this effort. 
  2. My pav is weeping syrup at the bottom.  This is a sign that the pav is undercooked.  It's still OK to eat, but leave the pav in the oven longer next time.
  3. My pav has cracks on the surface.  That’s pretty much normal.  Cover with cream and enjoy.  If a bit comes adrift, join it back together with cream and no one will know (or care).
  4. My pav sank in the middle.  That's pretty normal too. 
Don't despair if your pav looks nothing like the commercial versions; just make cream filling your best friend when decorating your pavlovas and they will look and taste very special.