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What is the best way to making a great pavlova base?

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Can you explain what you mean by "base"? Do you mean the crust? –  Aaronut Dec 7 '10 at 22:12
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@aaronut, the base is just a meringue. –  yossarian Dec 7 '10 at 23:16
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If you want pavlova, just follow any New Zealand pavlova recipe on the web. If you want meringue use a meringue recipe. Do you have specific problems? Two important things, room temp egg white, and everything very clean (contamination and oil on cooking bowls etc) –  TFD Dec 8 '10 at 0:01
    
@TFD hey mate you sound like you have a pretty good idea of how the base should go down? could you provide an answer, I'm having trouble choosing one to accept. –  Anonymous Type Dec 8 '10 at 21:29
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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The secrets: (some are old wives tales, but hey, it's an old recipe)

Eggs: Room temperature (you don't put eggs in the fridge do you?) and not fresh

Contamination: Make sure everything you use to prepare the base is perfectly clean, especially no grease. Use boiling water to rinse everything first. Metal or glass bowls are best, as plastic is harder to get 100% clean. Also make sure no yolk gets into the egg whites

Beating: When eggs whites have gone firm, add the sugar a little at a time using a powerful beater machine going flat out. NZ'ers use their trusty but ancient Kenwood Chef with the glass bowl for ten minutes until the it looks like the Swiss Alps on a sunny day. You should not be able to feel the castor sugar when you squish some mix between your fingers. If they go dull you have over beaten. They will still work but will go extra soggy when cooked as the sugar runs out

BTW: Use ear muffs when using your Kenwood Chef, I kid you not!

Size: Height = radius, or a little less. A radius of less than 10cm means you won't get Pav, just meringue. You can experiment with baking paper rings to hold the mix into a perfect cake shape if fussy. I wouldn't bother though

Problems:

  • Collapse: You opened the oven door ... DON'T
  • Cracking: Normal, don't worry. This is a messy desert and you'll be covering it with whipped cream soon!
  • Crystallisation: over cooking
  • Marshmallow like in middle: Normal, that's what a Pav is meant to be like. If it's not like that you have over cooked it, or you didn't make it thick enough. Foamed egg white is a self-insulator, once the outside cooks it stops the heat getting into the middle
  • Weeping: too much sugar, over beating, or not enough cooking. Cook for little longer on humid days

If truly stuck, go on a course http://www.creativetourism.co.nz/workshops_taste_pav.html

This is what they should look like

alt text

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A pavlova base is a meringue with cornstarch added. The addition of cornstarch makes a soft, marshmallow-y center. The Joy of Baking has what looks like a comprehensive recipe, although I haven't made it.

I've always just made it with a normal meringue base and only just learned this was "wrong" (silly English heritage I guess) . If you want to use a meringue base, there are two main considerations:

  • Individual or Share? - You can either make small individual portions or a single large meringue that you cut. Meringue doesn't always cut great and the whipped cream makes the whole thing soggy, so you have to eat it in a day. Individual meringue's may be a bit big for a single serving and are harder to get chewy. Generally, I'll do a big one for a party and individual ones if I know how many diners I have.
  • Hard or Chewy? Some people like their meringue really dry and airy, for which you leave it in the closed oven for a long time after cooking, maybe even overnight. Or you can pull it out a little earlier, leaving the center gooey and chewy. I have a strong preference for the second variety.

Other than that, all you need to do is make a meringue. I generally use the recipe from Delia Smith (she likes them chewy too). Essentially you just whip egg whites, disolve in some fine sugar, and bake it. It's super easy (if you have a mixer) and it's always a huge hit.

Good luck.

To anyone that isn't familiar with Pavlova (Australia's Favorite Treat), I strongly recommend you try one: Meringue topped with whipped cream topped with loads of fresh fruit.

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A Pavlova is NOT "simply a meringue". It has similar ingredients, but it has a totally different cooking process. Unlike meringue it must have cornstarch to set, and is cooked briefly in a med oven and then the oven is switched off and it is left until cool. It resembles a large gooey cake with a thin crisp shell. Whipped cream and fruit are added on the day of serving so the cream is fresh, the cake is already "soggy". The Oxford English Dictionary has recently (correctly) credited it as a New Zealand desert. Many NZ'ers travel between Oz and NZ , hence it's popularity over there –  TFD Dec 7 '10 at 23:53
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@TFD, you appear to be correct! I'm English, living in America, and I've only ever had it as a meringue base. But I prefer mine gooey anyway, so it's probably more similar than a dry meringue. I'll update my answer. –  yossarian Dec 8 '10 at 0:19
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BTW, it most definitely is a meringue. While most recipes don't call for a binding agent, others use cornstarch (like pavlova) or cream of tartar. –  yossarian Dec 8 '10 at 0:26
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I discovered how to make pavlovas a couple of years ago and have always found them really easy. My recipe uses egg whites, golden caster sugar, cornflour and white wine vinegar.

I have heard that it can be tricky to get this right so I always follow the exact same stages:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
  2. Cover the baking sheet with greaseproof paper
  3. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff and shiny peaks
  4. Add the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, and when it is all added continue whisking for 3-4 minutes until it stands in peaks
  5. Add the cornflour and white wine vinegar and whisk
  6. Spoon on to the baking tray, making a dent in the middle
  7. Place in the oven and turn it down to 120 degrees C
  8. Cook for 1 and a half hours, then turn off the oven and leave until completely cold before removing.
  9. Peel off the paper, and fill with whatever you like (I used thickly whipped double cream, and fruit.)

I have included the whole recipe because I'm not certain which of the stages is key. I would guess that properly whipping it (stages 3 & 4) and the cooking method (starting it off hotter, then turning down, and leaving it in the oven until completely cold) is probably part of it too. I also read when I first saw the recipe (can't remember where, sorry) that the white wine vinegar and cornflour are key to helping it set well too.

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Having read the comments and Yossarin's answer - they are right to point out that it will go soggy if you top it too long before you want to eat it. –  Bluebelle Dec 8 '10 at 8:30
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The typical NZ cooking time is 150C for 45 minutes, and then let it cool. It wont go soggy, because: it already sort of is soggy, cream and set egg white don't self mix, and if you can keep this in your house for longer than a day without eating it you made it wrong :-) –  TFD Dec 8 '10 at 9:38
    
I think it would be the water from the berries I top it with that would make it go soggy - you're right that cream and set egg white wouldn't mix by themselves! –  Bluebelle Dec 8 '10 at 11:39
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Try thinly sliced kiwifruit or preserved peaches –  TFD Dec 8 '10 at 19:30
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In terms of physically MAKING the base, shape the mixture into a ring on the tray, so that the outside of the pavlova is slightly higher than the inside. This helps the cream and fruit not fall off when you're cutting it.

The mixture needs to be really stiff so that it doesn't expand outwards into a big flat pav. I find that using a ratio of 1:2 icing sugar:caster sugar also helps form a stiffer and glossier mixture.

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I am not sure if the making the outside higher than the middle really helps. It's a round thick "cake", it is usually sliced into fat wedges. Things slide off and break when you serve the wedge –  TFD Dec 8 '10 at 19:39
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In my experience, the keys to good meringue are : Old Eggs and a clear day.

The fresher the egg, the thicker the white. An egg fresh out of the chicken will have a heavy gelatinous white that sticks to the yolk, and only a little bit of watery white.

As the egg gets older, the whites convert to the more watery form. This is what you want for meringue.

Secondly, I have much more success on clear days than I do on rainy days. I think it has something to do with the air pressure and humidity.

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+1 for some real inside info, thanks Master chef. –  Anonymous Type Dec 8 '10 at 21:27
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