Pavlova is a classic dessert with meringue, whipped cream and fruit — but to me, it’s more than that. There’s something about it that’s ethereal but also chaotic. Pavlovas always feel like a gentle reminder to myself: a little chaos can be a beautiful thing! Messiness is interesting! There’s something even a little ugly about it that I’ve come to adore.
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 enjoy my pavlova. I make pavlova for my sweet neighbors who bring in our trash cans every Friday morning. I make pavlova to get my dessert-picky brother to appreciate something that isn’t chocolate cake. And I make pavlova for myself when I’m feeling particularly happy that day or, even more important, when I’m feeling sad.
On days when I’m emotional, my pavlovas turn out chaotic. Dark berry juice trickles down the sides creating pools of sweetness; pillowy whipped cream is haphazardly heaped on; the top is freckled with crushed pistachios and fruit, testing the strength of the meringue. And on days where I’m feeling in love with the world, my pavlovas are playful — all soft colors and gentle flavors.
But no matter the mood, there is something I treasure about the way the spoon sounds when scooping into the pavlova. The quiet crunching of the meringue is satisfying and validating, as if it is saying: This is something sweet for you to enjoy, this is for you.
A few notes: For the meringue, make sure your mixing bowl is very clean without a lick of grease. Any sort of grease in your mixing bowl will also prevent egg whites into whipping up (egg whites can be fickle.) At the very end, to finish off your pavlova, dust 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 sugar
Zest from half a lemon
Whipped Cream (or store-bought is fine)
1 cup cold heavy whipping 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 fruits, figs, anything at all!)
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks. (Make sure there aren’t any egg yolks in your whites otherwise they won’t whip into stiff peaks.) Pour the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a standing mixer, or a mixing bowl. Whip the egg whites on medium high speed. They will become frothy and then slowly become more and more opaque and stiff. At that point, slowly stream in your sugar, then let it run on medium high speed for another 10 more minutes. At about 9 minutes, add the extract and salt. At 10 minutes, your egg whites should be in stiff peaks, meaning that if you flip the mixing bowl upside down, nothing should drip out.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scoop the meringue into the middle, shaping it with a rubber spatula or a spoon to create a little pool-like indent in the center. (This is where you’ll add your whipped cream and berries after it’s baked.)
Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.
While it bakes, make the berry compote: Add the berries, sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and lemon zest into a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, giving the mixture a stir occasionally. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the fruit has broken down and compote looks jam-like and loose, 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. Once the cream starts thickening, add the powdered sugar, macerated berries, extract and pinch of salt. (If you want a mix of colored whipped cream and plain whipped cream, whip half the cream separately without the berries.) Whip until you can make stiff peaks, or until it’s the consistency you like. Just be sure to not over-mix or it will turn into butter!
Once the pavlova has cooled, transfer it to a serving platter, then start assembling. Add a swoosh of whipped cream to the center, then a drizzle of compote and fresh fruit. Or do whatever your mood tells you to do: This is the time to make your pavlova as chaotic and beautiful as you’d like!
Ethaney Lee is a home cook, who loves to cook for herself, her loved ones and the people in her community. She lives with her boyfriend, Jeremy, and their Taiwanese rescue dog, Cleo, in Berkeley, California. You can find her photos and thoughts on Instagram.
Thank you, Ethaney!
(Photos by Ethaney Lee.)