It’s not easy to walk away from this dessert’s crispy exterior, pillowy centre, and toppings of fresh cream and fruit. And bakeries and dessert stores know it and that’s why most would have them in stock.

Despite its popularity, Malaysians still largely depend on stores to get their pavlova fix. While it’s widely available, there is one big drawback — the price. People are now paying up to RM20 for a slice, when the actual cost of making an entire pavlova is only about RM15 to RM20.

So why not learn how to make it at home? The idea may seem a little daunting because a pavlova is in no way a simple butter cake. You must be meticulous and careful when preparing this dessert. But once you know all the rules and steps, you’ll find that it’s an extremely straightforward process.

The most important thing you need to understand about making pavlova is that this ‘dish’ is ultimately a “meringue” — which is a mixture of egg whites and sugar that’s whisked until it becomes a thick cream-like concoction before being baked. Meringues are surprisingly easy to make but there are strict rules you must follow to get it right.

Rules and tricks

The first rule is to ensure that you don’t get any fat touching your egg whites or sugar. Egg whites are able to hold a lot of air, but the second any kind of fat, like grease, oil or egg yolks touches it, the entire mixture will deflate.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, chefs will wipe down their bowls, whisks and tools with a mixture of water and vinegar. Be careful though — too much vinegar and your end product will taste sour. If you don’t like the taste of vinegar, you can use lime juice or lemon juice. Besides wiping down your ingredients, you must make sure that there’s no egg yolk in your mixture. If some does get in, it’s best to throw out your entire mixture and restart the process. Even trace amounts of egg yolks can deflate your meringue.

Another trick you may not know about is to cook your meringue mixture before whisking it to stiff peaks. This will make your meringue stable and ensure that it won’t have too many large cracks* when baked. The best method is the “Swiss Meringue” method, which ensures that all your sugar has fully dissolved in the egg whites.

The method involves placing your egg whites and sugar in a double boiler and stirring until the mixture is hot to the touch and all the sugar has fully dissolved. Once this has been achieved, you can remove it from the heat and whisk until it reaches stiff peaks.

Finally, the most important thing about baking a meringue is to use a low heat for a long period of time. Anything below 150°C is a workable number. I usually use 145°C, other chefs might use 120°C. Your preferred temperature will be clear to you once you start baking meringues more often.

More importantly, you must not increase your oven temperature in the middle of baking to speed up the process. This will create large cracks in your meringue. You need to bake your pavlova under a low temperature for at least two hours. You’ll know that it’s done once the outer layer has developed a crispy shell. Immediately remove it from the oven and let it cool at room temperature.

Interesting pairings

The next thing you need to worry about is the type of cream you use to top your pavlova with. You can use the traditional whipped cream, but let’s face it, these days pavlova is paired with so many more interesting things than just whipped cream. You can use custard, a dark chocolate ganache or my favourite — a citrus curd. A citrus curd is rich but acidic enough to cut through the pavlova’s sweet flavour. The best part is that it pairs wonderfully with the cream and fruits.

Speaking of fruits, this dessert traditionally uses berries. But we all know how pricey berries can be. Don’t be shy to use different fruits to use as topping. Personally, I like using kiwi fruit and some sour grapes mixed with berries. Not only does it cut down on the price but it also adds more colour to my final product. While it still may seem daunting, a pavlova is really worth learning how to make at home. You may end up with large cracks or a hard centre on your first few attempts, but don’t worry. Even pavlovas that aren’t perfect are usually pretty good once paired with the toppings.

* Cracks in pavlovas are normal, but try not to have so many, especially large ones, because this would make the pavlova break into a few pieces.

Pavlova with Kiwi, Berries & Lime?

Curd Recipe:

Meringue/Pavlova Shell:

200g egg whites

400g castor sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cream of tartar or 1 tsp lemon/lime juice.

Method:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Preheat the oven to 150˚C.

3. In a double boiler, place all the ingredients and stir until the sugar melts and the mixture is hot to the touch.

4. Pour the mixture into a mixer and whisk until a stiff peak meringue forms.

5. Shape your meringue onto the parchment paper and bake for up to 2 hours.

6. Once baked through, let it cool to room temperature.

Orange Curd:

150g egg yolks

150g lime juice

150g castor sugar

½ tsp salt

Method:

1. Prepare a bowl with a fine mesh sieve.

2. In a heavy bottomed pot, place all the ingredients and immediately mix them together on a low heat.

3. Once the mixture starts to thicken, pour it through the sieve.

4. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature.

Whipped Cream:

200g whipping cream

½ tsp vanilla extract

1tbsp castor sugar

Method:

1. Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

2. Whisk until stiff peaks form.

Toppings:

2 green Kiwi fruit

½ punnet strawberries

½ punnet blueberries

10 dehydrated lime slices.

Gold beads

Honey

Assembly method:

1. Once the pavlova is baked, it should peel off from the parchment paper easily. Place it on your desired serving plate/tray.

2. Spread a layer of the curd onto the top.

3. Spread a thick layer of the cream.

4. Cut the fruits, and decorate the top.

5. The pavlova can last in the fridge for up to three days.

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