This week’s obsession: Pavlova
Hey friends! How’s the holiday eating going? Personally, I’m not doing so well:
But at least I'm warm.
To help with this situation, I downloaded a calorie counting app to get a jump start on what I’m now calling “Jaw-dropping January”, meaning that I plan to eat more sensibly than I have since Thanksgiving (actually since quarantine started) and will attempt to run more than twice a week. In all honesty, this app thing is not going so well either as I’ve already decided not to tell it everything I ate yesterday which somehow included three different styles of potatoes 🤷♀️ #IrishGenesFTW
I’m not known for actually helping anyone with this whole holiday overeating struggle either, and I certainly lived up to that reputation with my Christmas dessert this year:
Let’s talk about pavlova. We can start with the obvious question: what is it? In most parts of the world it is known to be a holiday dessert. I’ve got to be honest, I had heard about it years ago but my very first experience with eating it was last year when a coworker brought one to work. It was tasty! Plus I was living in Maui at the time, so the weather was perfect for such a light and airy dessert.
So why is it known as a holiday treat if it works so well in the summer? Don’t let the name fool you - even though this confection is named after a Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, this dessert is typically served around the holidays in Australia/New Zealand (the originating country is up for debate, but geographic location is relatively the same. At least from where I stand). Whichever country it originated in, what you can bet is that it’s hot there right now. And they’re eating pavlova.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy it over here, too! Typically, a pavlova is very simple: baked meringue as a light and crunchy base, whipped cream for some sweetness, and a fresh fruit topping, usually stacked with two or three repeated layers of meringue and toppings. But you know us pastry chefs, we always like to put our own twist on traditional desserts. I’ve seen several pavlova recipes that utilize the standard meringue base from a pavlova recipe but top it with Nutella and strawberries (which you can bet I will certainly try that style soon because it sounds so delicious!).
For this particular pavlova, I was trying to use leftover dessert ingredients so they wouldn’t go to waste. During our annual Christmas baking day, my mother made a delicious lemon curd to fill our shortbread thumbprint cookies. However, the recipe made such a large amount that we had a whole container of leftover lemon curd sitting in the fridge. So I decided to spread the lemon curd on top of my crunchy meringue base first, followed by a fresh crème Chantilly that I made on the fly, and topped it all with some fresh fruit and a powdered sugar dusting.
I should mention that I did something unconventional with the shape of the pavlova, too. Usually, the meringue is shaped into two or three disks and baked so that when it is assembled, it resembles a cake. I decided to pipe it in a wreath form in an attempt to carry the Christmas feel through my dessert. This shape also made it extremely easy to serve (something I found out with the 26 shaped birthday cake I made last month, and that I've noticed about King Cakes, too!) which is always nice.
Some other things to note when working with a baked meringue: the first is that it is EXTREMELY fragile. It will probably crack as it cools and when you shift it off the baking pan onto your serving tray. It's ok! It's super delicate and almost impossible not to break. Even if you break it in half, you're going to cover it with so much stuff that it won't be noticeable. The second thing to note is that it is highly absorptive, so it will start breaking down even further after you top it with your whipped cream, lemon curd, Nutella, etc. It will be extremely prone to breakage at this point, so my recommendation is to only move it once after it cools (or just serve it on the pan you baked it on if that makes it easier) and then don't even think about shifting it to somewhere else once you've topped it with whatever deliciousness you've chosen to use. This property will also cut down on the crunchiness, so keep that in mind.
I do want to talk about the pastry tools that I used to assemble this dessert. Because I’m not in my own home, I used whatever was available. This includes piping bags, which seem so inconsequential yet make a huge difference. A lot of amateur baking blogs advise not buying professional piping bags and to just use sandwich bags instead, but I’ve always cautioned against piping with sandwich bags. I’ve never seen that replacement work well - almost every time I’ve watched someone use this replacement or they’ve discussed their experience with me, it all results in the same thing: the bag burst under the pressure. Piping bags are made from a much thicker plastic than sandwich bags, and are shaped appropriately, which makes the whole process manageable. However, I was left with no choice this holiday since there were no piping bags available here (usually there are, but #2020 happened). However, I have noticed that the gallon size freezer bags are made from thicker plastic than the smaller sandwich bags, so that’s just what I used, and it’s what I’m advising you to use for my tip of the week!
Just drop your piping tip into one of the bottom corners of the bag, cut a small opening for the tip to poke through, then fill the bag.
I also filmed how I assembled a pavlova to demonstrate the steps. NOTE: I’ve gotten permission from everyone who appears on screen, but I would also like to apologize to you, dear reader, for the background chaos that happens at the end of this video 🤦♀️ I was ready to top the pavlova with fresh fruit and powdered sugar, and as soon as I pressed record and started assembling, my sister, brother-in-law, and their 4 children showed up to spend Christmas day at my parents’ house. Apparently none of us were ready…
I showed the raw footage to my family to let them know that this would be on my blog and we all had a good laugh about it. #ShoutOut to my family for being such good sports! Plus they knew that by the end of the day, we would slice into this crunchy pile of deliciousness and enjoy every bite.
After our lovely holiday spent together, I settled by the Christmas tree with a glass of eggnog and all was right with the world.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And happy eating, y’all!