“Why does she look like she’s crying to me?” A Tear-Free Guide to the Perfect Pavlova | Australian food and drink

mef trifle is the ultimate ready-made Christmas dessert, and then a pavlova is its puffy, needy, time-sensitive opposite. The former can be hacked with store-bought sponges and jelly and live quite happily in the fridge until serving time. The latter requires a deep working knowledge of the chemistry of egg whites and the microclimate of your kitchen to achieve the marshmallow’s delicate core and crisp exterior.

“Anything with just a few ingredients is really tricky—because it’s just technical,” says pastry chef Alistair Wise. “You can’t put fine herbs on it and hope you’ll be OK.”

While Pavlova is delicate and fragile, your technique should be strong. We asked three experts—including Wise, chef and recipe developer Ismat Awan, and food stylist and photographer Nidhi Sampat—for their tips on baking and decorating a flawlessly fluffy pavlova for Christmas and beyond.

Before: Clean bowls, clean sugar and dry day

“Never do it on a rainy day. Just forget it,” says Wise, who founded the Hobart confectionery Sweet Envy. Pavlovas are best made the day before you can eat them, so if Christmas Eve is going to be wet or damp, have a spare candy bar.

You will need bowls. Many dishes. It must be very dry and very clean. “I know this may sound very depressing to some people, but you know, we have dishwashers in modern times, and if not, you can spend extra time with your loved ones at the sink and laundry,” Awan says.

Many bowls facilitate the work of the pavlova process. Just make sure it is dry and clean. Photograph: Dan Matthews/The Guardian

You will need three bowls to separate the egg whites from the yolks: one for the whites, one for the yolks, and a third as a safety net when cracking each fresh egg. This way, if any yolks fall into the bowl, you can discard just one egg, rather than the entire batch of whites. “If there’s yolk in there, leave it for an omelet later and start over,” says Awan.

Recipes vary, but the sugar-to-egg ratio is about 55 grams per egg white. For a pavlova that serves six people, you’ll need about four egg whites and about 220 grams of sugar.

How to make the perfect Christmas pavlova? – video

To whisk egg whites, it’s best to use a large stainless steel or glass bowl, as plastic can harbor moisture and grease—pavlova’s sworn enemies. “Egg whites are water-based and when you have any yolk, lard or oil, it’s a heavy fat that makes you gain weight,” Awan says. “It won’t tip over, it won’t swell.”

Make sure the sugar is clean, too. A common pavlova pitfall for home cooks, especially this time of year, is tainted sugar, Wise says. “[They’ve] They would make Christmas cookies or gingerbread and they would [need] Big cup of sugar, and they had the flour scoop in there too, so the sugar ends up getting dirty.” He recommends opening a fresh bag of caster sugar, just for safety.

Particle size matters. “Use fine caster sugar because it melts better and creates a softer, shinier texture for the pavlova,” Awan says. She says that home brand caster sugar from major supermarkets is more finely milled than brand name products.

During: Take your time

Close-up of a pavlova wreath decorated with strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and mint leaves.
For a classic red-and-green Christmas palette, decorate a pavlova with strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and mint leaves. Photography: Nidhi Sampat

Don’t: Add the sugar at the beginning of the egg-beating process. “A lot of people add all the sugar at once and that…causes deflation. The eggs just melt and then you say, oh my gosh, I have sweet egg whites.

Speeding up your drunkenness may also cause you to “cry.”

“That’s when the sugar seeps out of your pavlova after baking, and you’re like, Why does it sound like my crying pavlova? It’s not because of your emotional state, it’s because of the way we put the sugar.”

Do: Whisk the eggs until foamy like a “bubble bath,” says Awan. Then gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, allowing the whites to beat three or four times before adding the next tablespoon. (For this reason, it’s best to use a stand mixer rather than a hand mixer.) This process can take between eight and 10 minutes—awan queues up three songs to measure through time.

The eggs should have stiff, shiny peaks and the sugar should dissolve completely. To check, Wise says to rub some of the mixture between your fingers—if it’s gritty, whisk for a little longer. At this point, many recipes call for a touch of cornmeal and vinegar, which provides stability and structure.

Top view of a palette knife wiping a pavlova
Using a palette knife, “swish upwards” to build the pavlova, Oan says. Image: The Guardian

To build your pavlova, take a piece of baking paper, draw a 20cm circle with a marker as a guide, then place the paper, ink side down, on a baking sheet. Transfer the egg-white mixture to the circle and then, using a palette knife, “move upward…as if you’re making ridges around the edges” before smoothing the top, says Oan.

“You’re trapping the air you put in the eggs and giving them just enough structure so they don’t fall apart in the oven.”

Bake the pavlova in an oven at a low temperature. Wise bakes at 130°C for the first 15 minutes and then lowers the temperature to 80°C for the remaining 45 minutes, while Oan defends 120°C with the fan setting off – this prevents the oven from “pumping heat” and increases your chances of getting Shiny, white pavlova.

When the baking time is up, let the pavlova cool slowly in place overnight, with the oven door closed, or at most a crack open. Whatever you do, don’t tear up [the pavlova] Wise says. “The difference in temperature between the inside and outside of the oven will cause it to collapse.”

Next: Keep your decorations simple and seasonal

Individual meringue nests are arranged in a wreath pattern and decorated with strawberries, cherries, and raspberries.
Store-bought nests of meringue are a Christmas candy hack—simply arrange the meringue in a circle and garnish with your chosen cream and fruit. Photography: Nidhi Sampat

Garnish the pavlova just before serving. Do it too long in advance and you risk a soggy pavlova, Sampat says.

However, the decorations can be made ahead: whip cream up to 1 day in advance, cut fruit in the morning, and store ingredients in separate airtight containers. Strawberry slices should be placed on top of a paper towel; For mangoes, use a firm variety such as Kensington or Calypso, cut into cubes rather than slices, and place on top of baking paper or a Chux cloth. Just don’t go too happy with the raspberries, Sampat says: “They’ll get quite soft, so leave the berries whole.”

For a simple and seasonal pavlova decoration, Sambat loves a blue-and-yellow summer palette with blueberries, mango, and passionfruit. “It’s really amazing against a white pavlova.”

Drizzle blueberries across the surface (for texture variation, she uses a mix of whole and halved berries), arrange the mango cubes, and sprinkle the passionfruit pulp around the edges and let it drip down the sides of the pavlova for a dramatic effect.

Topview of meringue nests arranged in a circle, topped with gingerbread cookies.
“Just Put Gingerbread on It”: When all else fails, let spiced ginger come to the rescue. Photography: Nidhi Sampat

If the pavlova-making process goes awry for some reason, Sambat suggests making a pavlova wreath with nests of store-bought meringue. Arrange the meringue in a circle and garnish with the fruit of your choice.

For a traditional green and red Christmas decoration, she says strawberries, raspberries, cherries, basil, and mint leaves work well for pavlova wreaths.

And if all else fails, she has one last styling tip: “Just stick gingerbread on it.”

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