The question of which country invented the pavlova is the stuff of diplomatic nightmares. Australians, whose national dish it is, like to relate that the dessert was created shortly after Anna Pavlova’s Australasian tour of 1926. But, as Professor Helen Leach, author of “The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History” reveals, that pavlova was a multi-coloured jelly, constructed in a tutu-shaped mould.
Instead it was a Kiwi who put the eggs into the pudding when, two years later, a housewife from Dunedin published her recipe for “pavlova cakes” – meringues containing coffee essence and walnuts. It wasn’t until 1935 that an Australian pavlova of the shape and taste that we would recognise was born.
Whatever its name, there are as many incarnations of pavlova as there are marsupials. The meringue base is straightforward, but the topping is open to interpretation. Donna Hay, an Australian cookery writer, recently published half a dozen recipes, ranging from smashed pavlova with mulberries and roasted raspberry jam to cinnamon and candied pecan pavlova. The bestselling dessert at Ester Restaurant in Sydney is “burnt pav”, which is cooked in a 600˚C wood-fired oven for 30 seconds, then smothered in cream and elderflowers.
Perhaps the most authentic version comes from Stephanie Alexander, one of Australia’s most authoritative chefs. For her recipe: pre-heat the oven to 180˚C. Beat four egg whites with a pinch of salt to form satiny peaks, then beat in 250g of caster sugar, tiny bit by tiny bit, until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Gently fold in 2tsp of cornflour, 1tsp of white-wine vinegar and a few drops of vanilla essence, then mound onto a paper-lined baking tray in a circular shape, flattening the top and smoothing the sides. Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 150˚C and bake for 30 minutes; reduce the heat to 120˚C and cook for a further 45 minutes, then turn it off and leave the meringue in the oven until cool. Take it out, invert it onto a platter, pile on lashings of firmly whipped cream, crown with the pulp of ten passion fruit – and poke in whatever flag you feel able to defend.