In its most basic form, a pavlova is a meringue made by beating egg whites with sugar. Simple as that may be, perfecting it isn’t so easy. I’ve tried many techniques and tricks to achieve a magazine-worthy fluffy look and glossy texture, and I’ve found that my biggest enemy, again and again, has been impatience.
I used to give up too early, reasoning five minutes should be enough for the mixture to stiffen. Not the case! I eventually learned that it takes at least twice as long, and the meringue goes through its stages unevenly and slowly, from frothy and opaque to soft-firm to stiff—until it finally transforms at the end.
There are, of course, other well-known and very important rules to follow. Remember to keep your bowl and any other equipment that comes into contact with the egg whites completely clean and dry. Any residual grease, water, or even traces of egg yolk can prevent your egg whites from foaming and holding their shape.
At all costs avoid making pavlovas on humid or rainy days since sugar absorbs the extra moisture in the air and interferes with the stability of the egg whites. Adding an acidic element, like cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar, helps stabilize the whites for whipping.
My key for a snowy-white pavlova with a crunchy shell and a cloud-like, marshmallow center is drying it out slowly instead of baking it, by using a lower oven temperature and increasing the cooking time. This technique prevents the shell from browning and cracking and creates a perfectly creamy inner layer that removes the need for any extra whipped cream when serving.
To cut through the meringue’s sweetness, I like to top the baked pavlovas with fresh clementines. This seedless hybrid of mandarins and oranges is at its peak in winter and adds a welcome brightness and elegance. When shopping in the citrus section, look for fruit that is firm but with a slight give, indicating juiciness, with a blemish-free, shiny skin. You can store clementines at room temperature for a week and up to two weeks when refrigerated.
And after all the work on the pavlova itself, you want the presentation of the clementines to shine as well. Cut the fruit into rindless segments, also called suprêmes. To do this, start by trimming off the top and the bottom of the fruit, then lay it down on one of the cut sides and slice the skin off by moving top to bottom, following the contour of the clementine. Then hold the peeled fruit in your hand and slice the segments out of the white membranes with two knife cuts. Work around the fruit, slicing along the membranes to release each segment.
Pavlova is often served as one large cake that’s cut into pieces to serve, but it loses all its dignity with one cut. I prefer to serve personal pavlovas, which this recipe makes, so everyone can enjoy the bright, pristine exterior before indulging in that first fresh, soft bite.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE MERINGUES
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup sugar
6 clementines: 2 used in the meringue and the syrup, 4 cut into rindless segments (suprêmes) for the topping
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SYRUP
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 anise pods
1 vanilla bean
1. Preheat oven to 195ºF with the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-low speed. Gradually add sugar and increase the speed of the mixer to medium, then medium-high. When all sugar is incorporated, continue whipping on high speed for about 10 minutes until the whites are stiff and glossy. The time spent will be worth it! With the mixer turned off, zest 2 clementines into the meringue and carefully fold in.
3. With a spatula, scrape the meringue out of the bowl to form two round mini pavlovas on the baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake for 1.5 to 2 hours, running your oven’s fan if it has one. The pavlovas are done when the outsides are dry to the touch but still white and sound hollow when (gently) tapped. Leave them in the oven to cool with the door ajar.
4. Make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine water with sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and anise pods. Squeeze the 2 zested clementines into the mix and add the flesh as well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, strain the liquid (discard the spices and the clementines) and allow to cool.
5. When ready to serve, top the mini pavlovas with fresh clementine segments and the syrup.
6. You can store the baked pavlovas in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days. Top with the fruit and syrup before serving. Don’t refrigerate the meringues because they absorb moisture and become chewy. This dessert is best eaten the same day.
Kate Kosaya is a New York City–based food photographer, stylist, and content creator. She spends her free time cooking, collecting props, and blogging about life and food at lublyou.com.