Recipe by Julia Zouev. Photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.

Pavlova. The mere mention of this dessert sends me swooning as I ponder the fluffy meringue, whipped cream and fruit. But only an authentic pav made with egg whites and sugar does it for me. Not the supermarket packaged variety which my neighbour Louise describes the experience of eating as having “a mouthful of sweet dust”.

There appears to be some mystery around the origins of this rather well known dessert. Anna Pavlova was a world famous Russian ballerina in the 1920’s and it is believed the dessert was created in her honour during a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Some say the dessert was to mimic the wispy shape of her ballet dress, other theories say that it is floaty and light as Anna herself was. The first recorded recipes started appearing around 1925 so it has certainly been around for some time.

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(Pic: Anna Pavlova, photograph by Herman Mishkin 1920’s)

The controversy which exists to this day is exactly where the dessert was created. Was it Australia or New Zealand? In true Australian fashion, we have taken ownership of it (as well as Sam Neill, the Finn brothers and Russell Crowe) but there appears to be evidence that the pavlova originated in New Zealand despite these claims (and the same goes for aforementioned musicians and actors). A story published in the Herald Sun on December 3rd 2010 states “The Oxford English Dictionary determined that the first recipe for the pavlova was recorded in 1927 in Davis Dainty Dishes, published by the Davis Gelatine company. Australia’s claim comes from a 1935 recipe by Perth hotel chef Bert Sachse.” There you go, mystery solved.

Enter my mother Julia Zouev. She learned to make pavlova when I was a little girl from her friend Antonia Klimenko, a Russian woman who lived in Sydney’s West. Those who know me know that I defected from Melbourne to Sydney thirteen years ago after a love affair with the city which began when I was about seven years old. My family and I would take our winter school holidays there to get out of Melbourne’s much colder winter and into Sydney’s sunshine (and to experience Antonia’s cooking.)

Antonia would greet us at her Merrylands home which she shared with her Ukrainian husband Nikka and daughter Alex (who now owns The Lotus Eaters Cafe, a well known eatery in Cygnet Tasmania). A table laden with Eastern European delicacies, and pavlova (not so Eastern European in origin) would await us. When you’re seven or eight it doesn’t get much better than the crunchy meringue and fluffy cream with fruit. I was so enamoured with the dessert that my mother insisted Antonia teach her how to make it. And so she did. The pavlova has been making a grand appearance at every family Christmas and special occasion dessert table ever since.

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(Pic: circa 1987 at the Klimenko’s home in Sydney from left to right – me aged 16, my mum in full Eighties glasses and shoulder pads, the lady who introduced pavlova to my family Antonia, and her husband Nikka Klimenko. What always puzzles me about this picture is why we all look so unhappy. Was it too much beer on the table and not enough pavlova?)

I have mentioned in previous posts that my mum is an extraordinary cook. My friends who have tasted her pav have said it’s amongst the best they’ve ever had. My father in law Geoff can’t get enough of it, or her Beef Stroganoff for that matter. The pavlova making in my family has been traditionally left for my mother being the cooking matriarch that she is, however she has finally passed the recipe down to me.

Mum’s pav is really simple and doesn’t contain cornflour or vinegar. Her pav uses granulated sugar as opposed to caster sugar which seems to go against the grain (excuse the pun) of every other pavlova recipe I’ve come across. I asked why, and mum said the granulated stuff was what Antonia insisted made for a crunchy outer shell. I decided to test the theory, and I do have to admit the granulated sugar pavlova I made was better than the caster sugar for this particular tiered style. During the testing of this recipe I tried different types of sugar, vinegar/no vinegar, cornflour/no cornflour and in the end I decided the simpler the better, just egg whites and plain white sugar.

The other thing mum insists on is that the meringue absolutely needs to be beaten the correct amount of time. If you turn the bowl upside down and the meringue mixture moves, it’s not ready and needs to be beaten some more. The perfectly beaten egg white and sugar will not budge when the bowl is upturned. Also when the egg whites are beaten properly they will be easier to shape on the baking tray.

So I present to you the Zouev version of the humble pavlova. Brought to you by a Russian, for a Russian, originally written by a Kiwi (or an Aussie depending on who you speak to).

Ingredients:

8 egg whites
2 cups granulated white sugar

For the topping:
2 cups thickened (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla essence or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste (such as Queen)
1 mango
1 passionfruit
1 punnet of strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 220º C.

2. Separate your eggs making utmost care not to contaminate the egg whites with any egg yolk. Any fat in the egg whites will prevent them from beating properly and will weigh them down. (Reserve egg yolks for another purpose such as custard or ice cream. If you have a Thermomix try my Real Vanilla Custard recipe.)

3. Beat your egg whites until they are stiff then add your sugar slowly, one tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. Turn your bowl upside down to make sure the whites are stiff enough. If not, beat another minute or so then check again.

4. Place a sheet of baking paper on two large baking trays and draw 20cm rounds on each of them. Shape the meringue onto the two rounds evenly.

5. Place meringues into oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 120 degrees. Bake for 90 minutes then turn off oven, do not remove pavlova until oven is cool.

The topping and assembling of the pavlova

1. Beat the cream with the vanilla essence or vanilla paste until stiff peaks form and the cream clings to the beater.

2. Slice your mango into two cheeks and cube it by criss-crossing the flesh. With your fingers remove it, I like to slightly crush it so I don’t have pieces which look too perfect (I like a kind of messy looking pavlova). Make sure you remove all the flesh from the pip as well.

3. Start by assembling the bottom tier. With a spatula place half the cream on the meringue and scatter the mango and strawberry pieces on it.

4. Place top tier onto bottom tier and place second half of the cream onto it. Scatter mango and strawberry pieces on it then drizzle passionfruit pulp all over the pavlova.

 

On a footnote I wanted to mention that I have tested a LOT of pavlova recipes recently to create this post and others. I will be publishing more pavlova and meringue recipes over the coming weeks as it was too much fun and far too delicious not to share my discoveries. (Even though my family and neighbours are getting a little pavlova’d out, they still don’t seem to be complaining when presented with a new version.)

 

Photography & styling notes:

Since the pavlova is such an elaborate dessert I thought it best to keep the props simple. Both backgrounds are weathered veneered timber pulled out of hard rubbish and painted. The cake stand is by Ikea and I found it at Vinnie’s for two bucks. The vintage cake knife was picked up at the local Goodwill also for $2. Long live the op-shop! The only light used in this image is window light.