Yesterday I was on my way home, when it struck me that I would finally have time to bake in the evening. For some reason I couldn’t get pavlova out of my mind, and so I looked up various recipes online. I dropped by the supermarket and was happily greeted by a vast array of fresh berries.
Since I had never baked pavlova before, I referred to several recipes to see what the commonalities were. Based on that I figured I would have a much better idea of what needed to be done. For instance, the recipe from Jamie Oliver notes ingredients for a basic meringue. It’s missing cornstarch and vinegar/lemon juice. Relying on a single recipe rarely is a good idea if you’ve never baked something before.
Muddled Oven Settings
Since I now have two ovens (the newly acquired one still is unfamiliar to me), I decided to split the batches into two. Thankfully I did that because I didn’t pay as much attention to the setting of my familiar oven. I accidentally set it on bottom heat at first before switching to top heat to even out, then top and bottom heat for the rest of the baking time. Sadly, those pavlovas still ended up with a thin burnt layer below.
Lesson learnt, always, always triple check your oven settings! The pavlovas I baked in the other oven turned out pretty well, so I know that I did everything right with the batter.
The pavlovas turned out delightfully light and fluffy. They had a crisp shell with a marshmallow-like centre. Together with the whipped cream and fruits, it was a huge hit at home. Though in future, I would bake them longer, so that the inside is a little drier. I think it would make a much nicer contrast to the cream filling.
Ways to Improve
Based on Online Research
One major point of contention was baking temperature. The more recipes I found though, the more I was certain of the consensus that I should bake pavlova at 150°C. Then came the problem of duration. Since I was baking mini pavlovas, I’d have to reduce the baking time. In the end I thought 30 minutes would suffice with another half-hour of resting in the oven. Turns out I had to continue baking my pavlovas for another 30 minutes at a lower temperature setting, so that they would dry out properly.
Ignore American and British recipes because that’s not where pavlovas where invented. Whether we owe this recipe to Australia or New Zealand is hotly contested to this day. In any case, look for recipes that originate from those countries. Google failed me in this aspect, and I only realized it after baking.
The best temperature to bake pavlova at is somewhere between 100°C and 120°C for 1h 15 mins to 1h 45 mins, depending on the size of the pavlova.
It’s a good idea to pre-heat the oven to a higher temperature, ca. 150°C. That way a thicker crust will form, adding crispness to the pavlovas. I like breaking off those chips and letting them melt in my mouth but if they’re too thin, they easily turn to dust.
Apparently the ideal proportion is 55g of sugar per egg white. That sounds like a lot to me. Since I usually reduce sugars while baking anyway, I decided my pavlovas wouldn’t be an exception. I reduced the amount by about a third. My pavlovas still rose and didn’t collapse while cooling. In other words, it’s not necessary to add that much sugar to stabilise the beaten egg whites.