Pavlova is meringue-based caked named after a Russian ballerina, but the origin of the world-famous dessert is the source of the most bizarre international disputes of the 20th Century and beyond.

What Is Pavlova Made Of?

Pavlova consists of crisp meringue crust over a marshmallow like center that is then topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

How Does It Compare To Meringue?

Pavlova is technically a meringue based dessert, but you have to add vinegar and cornflour to the meringue's ingredients - egg whites and sugar - to give the dessert its famous soft interior.

What Does The Consistency Look Like?

Ideally, Pavlova should have a crispy outer shell with a soft and almost gooey interior. This consistency, however, is quite difficult to perfect and many attempts at creating Pavlova will leave the would-be baker using extra whipped cream and fruit to hide any "cave-ins" that may occur along the way.

pavlova topped with strawberries, kiwis, and blueberries

Why Is This Dessert Called "Pavlova?"

It's Named After A Famous Russian Ballerina

The dessert was named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova during tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1926.

According to the New Zealand version of the story (this is disputed), the chef of a hotel in Wellington created the famous dessert in honor of Pavlova, with the fluff and weightlessness of her tutu allegedly serving as the inspiration.

Australians, however, believe that the dessert was first created (this is also disputed) by a chef in a Perth hotel who would go on to name it after the famed ballerina after a diner said the dish was "light as Pavlova."

Why Was Her Name Used?

At the time of her 1926 of Australia and New Zealand, Ann Pavlova considered by many to be the greatest ballerina of her time, and her visit was described as "the chief event of 1926."

When someone as famous and influential as Pavlova came through town, chefs and bakers alike allegedly wanted to commemorate the event with a special dessert.

pavlova topped with fresh fruit and fruit glaze

The New Zealand Vs. Australia Debate: Where Did Pavlova Come From?

Ever since recipes for Pavlova first started popping up in the cookbooks throughout Australia and New Zealand, two Australasian nations have claimed that their country was the birthplace of this elegant and exquisite dessert.

One Of the World's Most Disputed Foods

For the longest time, Pavlova was something of an international conflict, with everyone from Australia and New Zealand to America and Germany all claiming that they first invented Pavlova in honor of the famous ballerina during her extensive tours.

That argument sort of came to an end in 2010 when the Oxford English Dictionary ruled that the dessert first appeared in New Zealand in 1927 in a book called Davis Dainty Dishes, which was published by the Davis Gelatine Company, but as a multi-colored jelly dish.

But what about the meringue version? Experts in New Zealand still claim that this version of the dessert was also invented there sometime in the latter half of the 1920s.

So even though the Oxford English Dictionary was thought to have taken care of the whole mess, the debate rages on still today.

It Might Have Been Invented Earlier

There is even more intrigue and contention surrounding the origin of Pavlova than originally thought.

Dr. Andrew Paul Wood, a researcher from New Zealand, and Annabelle Utrecht, a researcher from Australia, spent at least two years looking into the origins of the long disputed dessert. After looking through over 20,000 newspapers and 10,000 cookbooks, the duo found over 150 recipes for meringue-based cakes similar to Pavlova that were published well before the claims made by their respective countries.

Through their investigation, Wood and Utrecht discovered that the similar recipes started popping up in the 18th Century in Austria. They also learned that similar recipes were popular in Germany and were brought to the United States by German immigrants.

Despite all of this, Australia and New Zealand still hold onto their claims as a form or national identity and pride nearly 100 years later.

a woman finishes preparing pavlova
Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups fresh sliced fruit

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add white sugar slowly, beating throughout. When the egg whites become very stiff, add vinegar and boiling water. Continue beating the mixture until the glossy surface begins to fade and mixture is very stiff.

  3. Pile meringue onto the baking sheet and shape into a circle that is 1 1/2 inches thick. Form a slight dip in the center so that the sides are slightly higher.

  4. Place meringue in the oven, shut the door, and turn off the heat. Let meringue sit in the oven for one hour. After an hour, check the texture of the meringue to see that it is hard with no spots. If the center is soft, heat the oven to 250 degrees and place the meringue back into the oven and turn off the heat.

  5. Once the meringue reaches the desired texture, transfer onto a serving platter and allow to cool.

  6. Whip the cream until stiff and then add vanilla and confectioners' sugar. Pile the whipped cream onto the meringue and arrange fruit on top. Serve.

Supplies

  • large bowl
  • whisk
  • baking sheet
  • aluminum foil
  • cooking spray
  • serving platter
  • pastry cutter

Are There Different Pavlova Recipes?

You don't have to settle for just one recipe when making Pavlova. Much like the origins of the famed dessert, the options are endless.

This recipe takes the traditional method of using strawberries and incorporates a mixture of fresh berries such as blueberries and raspberries, as well as sauces and liqueurs to create a new spin on the classic dish.

The next recipe creates not one Pavlova, but multiple smaller servings that would be great for a spring or early summer party. With a garnish of mint leaves, this recipe is something special.

Finally, there's this recipe, which calls for a heap of strawberries and other types of fruit that are then dusted with confectioners' sugar.