Pavlova Week: French Silk Pavlova


Surprise! It’s Monday, and yet here I am! I’ve been wanting to do something with pavlova for a long time and now that it’s summer I thought we could do a bit of a pavlova extravaganza. I have three lovely pavlova recipes for you to try this week! We’ll go back to our regularly scheduled programming next week, don’t worry.

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert from either Australia or New Zealand – it’s a big debate and I’m not sticking my nose into it. It’s basically a large meringue that isn’t baked to the point of being crispy and crunchy all the way through. Instead, pavlova has a thin layer of crispy outer shell, and then a large layer of soft, delicious marshmallow inside. I do want to make it clear that while pavlova is a kind of meringue, meringue is not pavlova – they are very different textures and I have found twice now that people who hate meringue do like pavlova.

Image: one slice of french silk pavlova in front of the whole thing. The slice has layers from the bottom up of thin meringue shell, a lot of marshmallow, another thin meringue shell, a thick layer of vanilla cream and swirls of chocolate on top.

Traditionally in Australia and New Zealand, pavlova is eaten at Christmas, which for them is in the summer, because they are, of course, upside down. It’s usually a plain dessert, flavored with vanilla and dressed in cream and berries, simple and delicious. If you want to make this kind of pavlova, follow the recipe but omit the cocoa powder and add vanilla extract at the end with the corn starch and vinegar.

Looking down on the whole pavlova, there’s powdered sugar over large chocolate swirls with cream peeping through, and then the base of pavlova with crispy meringue on the outside.

Vanilla and berries are all well and good. I adore vanilla and berries. However, it only makes for one delicious recipe, and we have three! The first is french silk, which is basically a combination of chocolate and vanilla. I haven’t had any luck tracking down the origins of this flavor, but it’s an ice cream and a pie. I’ve been eating the ice cream my entire life and it is my favorite flavor of all time.

Close up image of the chocolate swirls on top.

To get that delicious taste in a pav, I added cocoa powder in with less caster sugar than usual to offset the sugar in the powder. It wasn’t actually that easy, because pavlova does not like having other flavors added. It’s a picky kind of thing.

Image from the side of the pavlova, with large cracks in the shell. You can really see the seeds in the cream here.

Cracks are just part of a pavlova, although there are more in this one, A., because I over-whipped it, B., because of the addition of cocoa powder, and C., because this pavlova is actually upside down. If you turn it over like that you get a nice flat surface for your toppings, and the top of the pavlova gets a chance to mesh with the marshmallowy insides.

Another image of the top of the pav and the side running around. This pavlova might have been a little lopsided when it came out of the oven. Whether it was lopsided when it went in will never be proven.

We persevered, my pavlova and I, and then I got to go all out on the toppings. I stripped the seeds from a vanilla bean for the cream to get the speckled effect. I love how sophisticated vanilla seeds look. I also melted some chocolate. Originally I was going to pipe nice little shapes in the chocolate and place them on top the cream, but then I just smeared it all over the place. Once it cooled, it hardened, and made me think of being so excited to get chocolate dipped ice cream cones as a child (except that I never figured out how to order them and always ended up with the wrong thing). This pavlova tastes like those cones on top of soft chocolate marshmallow, with a hint of crispy cookie in between.

Image of the slice, again. The pavlova was weeping the tiniest bit down at the bottom. It was a hot, humid summer day here in Philly.

Pavlova is actually very simple to make. It only requires four major ingredients, not counting any flavoring. Those are: egg whites, cornstarch/flour, white wine vinegar, and caster sugar. Lemon juice can be used instead of the vinegar, and I believe cream of tartar can be substituted for the cornstarch, but I haven’t tried that myself. The basic theory behind pavlova is that the egg whites are whipped until they form peaks, and then everything else is added to keep the egg whites peaked.

Just another close up of the chocolate swirls. I just dumped the bowl of chocolate on top and swirled it with a plastic spatula.

The pre-baked meringue mix is fluffy and sticky and cloud-like and beautiful. It’s a long, low bake, and then the pavlova has to be brought up to room temperature slowly. DON’T open the oven door to check if it’s finished. Just turn off the oven and leave it to cool inside. In about two hours (but preferably more) you can go back and crack the door with a wooden spoon. Leave it for at least another hour before you bring it out. Once it’s out, the pavlova can sit, covered, at room temperature overnight. Or you can just eat it.

Things to remember when making pavlova:

  • If you’ve got one, use a stand mixer. You can do it with a hand mixer, but it’ll take a while, and you can do it by hand, but again, it’ll take a while.
  • No grease or egg yolk in the mixing bowl! Make sure it’s clean and dry. Crack the eggs into another bowl and add the whites one by one so you don’t accidentally contaminate the other five whites with your last yolk.
  • Mix the whites until they hold a small peak – but not super stiff, you don’t want to over beat them and have them separate.
  • Add the caster sugar slowly. If you shove it all in at once, the whites will drop.
  • Beat the whites and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved, and no further –  you’ll know when this is if you pinch a bit of mix between your fingers. It needs to feel smooth, no grainy bits.
  • When the sugar is incorporated, the mix should stand up when you pull the whisk away.
  • Mix the vinegar and cornstarch together before you put them in. It helps them blend better. Put them in at the very end with whatever flavoring you’re adding, and then mix them all in by hand, just enough to combine.

Pavlova isn’t that difficult, it just pretends to be. It’s the sort of thing you don’t want to overthink. Don’t worry, go forth, good luck, enjoy, and I believe in you! The next Pavlova Week installment will be on Wednesday!


French Silk Pavlova

Prep time: 20 minutes

Bake time: 1½ hrs.

For the pavlova:

6 egg whites (room temperature is best)

305g caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the cream and chocolate:

1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 tsp powdered sugar

1 bar semisweet baking chocolate

  1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Line a large baking tray with parchment and draw a circle about 20cm across. Flip the parchment over so the ink is facing down.
  2. Measure out your ingredients first. Mix the cocoa powder into the caster sugar.  Mix the vinegar and cornstarch together.
  3. In the bowl of your mixer, crack in six egg whites – do them in a separate bowl to make sure you don’t get any yolks in.
  4. Turn on the mixer to about half speed – I use 4 – and watch as the whites go opaque and fluffy. When the whites are full of small air bubbles and they hold a small peak, begin adding the caster sugar/cocoa powder slowly.
  5. The mixture will become glossy and sticky. Check for when the sugar has been fully dissolved by rubbing it between your fingers. If it’s grainy, it’s not done yet.
  6. When the sugar has dissolved, stop mixing. The meringue mix won’t be stiff enough to hold the bowl over someone’s head, but it will be thick with very little movement – it will hold its shape in stiff peaks. I’ve found that continuing to whip after the sugar goes in leads to over-whipping, and that you get a softer, fluffier inside this way.
  7. Take the bowl out of the mixer and pour in the vinegar/cornstarch. Give it an easy mix by hand just to combine.
  8. Spoon the mix onto the parchment. Try to keep it in the circle, and run a knife up the sides to support the pavlova. Don’t neglect the middle – I usually take what comes up the sides and use my finger to spread it in a spiral on top.
  9. Put the pav in the oven and turn it down to 225 F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  10. When the time is up, do NOT open the oven door. Just turn the oven off and leave it in for at least two hours. After that, prop the oven door open with a spoon, and an hour later you can take it out. The pavlova will survive at room temperature for about two days, so it can be made ahead of time.
  11. To make the cream, strip the vanilla bean and add the seeds to 2 cups heavy cream. You can let that sit for more flavor or you can just add the powdered sugar and whisk until whipped. Spread over the pavlova.
  12. To make the chocolate, melt it – you can do this in a microwave if you want. You can also use a double boiler, which is basically a tempered glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Chocolate melts easily, just be patient, but do not let it get too hot. And if you keep a chunk back and add it to the melted, it will help it get to the right pouring consistency. It needs to be cool enough to be fairly thick.
  13. Pour the chocolate on the cream and spread it in swirls. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

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