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Pavlova Meditation

By Kellie Purcill

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Some cakes I can bang out in under 3 minutes: measure, dump, stir, oil tin, whack in oven. But pavlovas tend to be a more meditative experience. Incredibly simple, only 2 ingredients for the actual pav (and really, you should call it a pav, it’s what we Aussies call it and it’s our unofficial dessert*), but with 2 double handfuls of opportunity to drift off into hushed dreams and gentle musings. Even when I’m in a rush to make one, I’m always side-tracked by the odd thought as I make the gorgeous meringue deliciousness.

Pavs are astoundingly easy to make, and hugely impressive as a dessert. The fact that they are a luscious confound of sweet, light, chewy and melting, let along the ability to dress up elegant or slouch for a casual event, makes it even more worth the simple (and wonderfully hands free) process. The meditation/daydreaming is an extra delight.

You can make pav with a handheld mixer, but a stand mixer is best, with a whisk attachment.  You will need 4 egg whites (make sure there’s no egg yolk lurking in there), 1 cup of fine sugar (not confectioners or icing sugar – caster or white sugar’s fine, brown sugar is a lovely choice too) and that’s it for the actual pav. Seriously, just those ingredients. The decoration on top comes later and is totally up to your own preferences.

So, toss the egg whites into the stand mixer or bowl, and start whipping on medium speed. When they start to thicken just enough to see the beater marks left behind, add in a quarter cup of sugar.  Meditation prompt: How on earth is this going to make a decent dessert? Think about other messes that turned out well.  Mmmm, good desserts… remember great desserts of stomachs past.

Keep beating, then after a minute add another quarter cup of sugar. Repeat until all the sugar is in the egg whites.  Meditation prompt I usually have at this stage:  Ugh, I hate waiting. Ok, I’ll count to 30, nah maybe 20 and then add in the next lot of sugar (which I then do. You don’t have to wait a minute between additions, just don’t put all the sugar in at once).

Now the sugar’s all in, keep beating for another 5-10 minutes, checking every 2 or 3 minutes for graininess.  Meditation prompt: to check for graininess, get a little meringue mix on your pointing finger, and rub it against the pad of your thumb in the non-verbal sign for money (here it’s used mostly to indicate something’s expensive) or to get something sticky or fine off your fingers. You will feel the grains of sugar amid the velvety – and now white opaque – gloss. Consider tiny grains of the sand, imagined beaches, how sensitive skin is, how smooth the mix is…

While it’s mixing, put baking paper on a tray, preheat the oven to 150C/302F. On the baking paper, draw a circle about 20cms/8 inches. This will be the guide for the base of your pav.  If you want individual pavs, this recipe makes about 4 decent individual pavs, or 6 individual meringues (less dense and pav-ish than pavs).  Meditation prompt: metric or imperial? Celsius or Fahrenheit? What maths did you learn in high school that you still use now?

Keep beating and checking until you can’t feel grains anymore. You can’t do this visually, you have to physically check (it’s amazing how you can feel things you can’t see making pav). Meditation prompt: lick the meringue off your fingers each time. If you live somewhere with egg related issues, think about visiting Australia where that isn’t a problem, or any other country you’d like to visit. Or planet, for that matter, or time…

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Once it’s all velvet glossy awesomeness, turn off the mixer – when you lift the beaters the peaks should look something like the above picture. Strong, stable, not slinking off sideways.  Take half a second to consider all you’re looking at is egg whites, air and sugar. That’s it.

Now to make the pav. Scoop out spoons of the mixture onto the tray, filling the circle, making sure to do so in stages and not whacking the mix down too hard (remember, you want the air to stay in the mix). Make sure the circle is filled before adding more mix on top. Meditation prompt: when’s the last time you coloured in? Concentrated on something tactile between your fingers? Swirled something somewhere?

Next, grab a cereal spoon. It’s time to add structural support and aesthetics to the pav! Starting at the bottom of the pav, with the back of the spoon brush the pav straight up. Up to you if you let the curly tip of the wave flop forward or back. Repeat all the way around the pav, until it’s fluted all the way around. Meditation prompt: strength in repetition. Beauty in curves. Reach for inner benefit.  A spoon is more than a scoop.

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(The two previous shots taken at night, hence the odd lighting/colouring)

Some people don’t edge it like this, but I’ve found it keeps the inner pav lush and high. Then again, making it poke out all over like a permed echidna is fun too. (My oldest doesn’t like pav, but likes meringue – his is the one to the right, below, with the sloppy curls. You can do that to your pav too.  Note this shot is after baking. ) Meditation prompt: love individually. What’s with hedgehogs? And most Australian animals?

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Now, pop it into the oven. Cook for 40 minutes, or until very lightly golden. Do NOT take out of the oven. Turn off the oven, but pop a folded tea towel or oven mitt in the oven door so it stays cracked open a couple of centimetres/an inch or so. Leave for a couple of hours until totally cool. Remove from oven, and carefully put onto your future serving plate. (Tip: get one corner of the baking paper, and pull it off to the side under the paper, so it’s folding under itself. Trying to lift the pav to get the paper off results in destruction. Or leave the paper under it, just cut closer to size.) Meditation tip: Sweet majestic goodness I made that!  Let a bit of meringue melt on your tongue. Breathe. Enjoy. Repeat.

You can decorate the top any way you want. Traditionally, whipped cream is put on top, but not the sides, with sliced fruit (I used bananas, kiwifruit and strawberries) on top. Passionfruit pulp is also traditional. But really you can add whatever you like. I’ve made them at Christmas with crushed candy canes all over the whipped cream, or with chocolate ganache, or just raspberries. Whatever you like, put on it.

Serve cut into wedges, and revel in the magic of the moment.

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Note that high altitude means the pav won’t rise or stay as high. It will just be slightly flatter, but also a bit more chewy which is a fantastic consolation prize. You can also pipe the mix into flat discs, and once baked (10-15 minutes, again look for a light gold colour) and cooled (again with oven door slightly ajar) layer multiple times with whipped cream and fruit/chocolate.

Another pav option is to line a slice tray (US Translation: jelly roll tray! My slice tin is about 12×10 inches/31x24cms and about 2inches/5cms deep) with baking paper, and spread the mix out in that, making the top flat. Once baked and cooled for 5 minutes, remove from oven. Get a clean teatowel, and cover the teatowel in sugar (yes, really), then loosely roll up from the short end. Leave to cool completely. Once totally cool, you can carefully unroll, slather in whipped cream, and roll up again. Note that I know two women who are charmingly polite and cute (and in their 80’s) but they will start shouting at each other within 10 minutes over whether “rolling then cooling” or “leave it flat then roll it up” is the best option. I’d suggest trying both ways and making up your own mind, and not asking a group of Aussies which toppings on pav are best.

In the final presentation efforts, the bonus with pav is that if it falls to pieces, just treat it like a parfait or trifle, layer accordingly and call it Queen’s Fool (and delish).

*Australians rarely bother about making things official. It’s just understood that our national cake is either pav or lamingtons (called lamos [LAM ohs]) and way more people like pavs than lamos, so there you go.

Have you had pavlova before? Have you had an unusual dessert from another country that you loved? Do you make a dish that makes you think about all sorts of odd things?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

11 thoughts on “Pavlova Meditation”

  1. Yum! Can't wait to try this!!!! I love the reflections. And I can't think of anything that gives me pause to think like this while I cook. I'm printing your recipe including the prompts.

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  2. This was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, made more glorious by the fact that you made it for me. Thank you for the recipe and meditation. I will definitely be making this soon and thinking of you.

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  3. I am making a Pav for our Elders tonight. I love introducing our Elders to Australian tastes and have won many over to vegemite when done as cheeses and vegemite scrolls.

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  4. Oh my, I'm learning so much today. I had to look up what a "echidna" was (cute little thing)…but "vegemite"? This is what I found in an Urban Dictionary: "Non-Australians tend to give descriptions of it similar to 'tastes like a mixture of salt and battery acid'. This is because they are wimps, and need to drink more beer, eat more pies, and of course, eat more Vegemite." Crack me up! I'll stick to pav!

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  5. Is a slice tray what we call in America a jelly roll pan or also called a half sheet pan? Could you please tell me what it measures in inches? Thank you, and by the way, this post was a delicious treat! Here in hot CA this recipe sounds just right! Yum!

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  6. My mom made this a few times when I was young. It is divine. I may just give it a try!

    Wish I could make it with YOU.

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  7. Still chuckling at Klm's vegemite 'tastes like a mixture of salt and battery acid'. I've never been to Australia but I love me some vegemite. I'm curious as to how the author of that description fared, how does one survive a battery acid taste test? Probably something to ponder while I try making this pav. Thank you for the recipe!

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  8. Klm – I hope you have fun making and eating it! And Vegemite's definitely a cultural thing, and if you're not raised on it, it's pretty vile from all accounts. That's a great definition too.

    Andrea – One day I'll do it again for you.

    Elissa – it's a perk of having the Elders over, right? Mmmm, scrolls!

    JP – yes, a jelly roll pan! My slice tin is about 12×10 inches (31x24cms) and about 2inches deep. Pav's the perfect summer dessert!

    Michelle – one day I'll make it for you!

    Pualele – I'm going to meditating the same question next time I make a pav 🙂

    Tay – a great idea, but I think I'd confuse too many people…

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