Pavlovas are made to impress. And this berry pavlova is not exception. This is why I call it best berry pavlova… ever. Isn’t this the most beautiful dessert ever? It’s the perfect ending for any festive meal, a patriotic celebration, including this coming Fourth of July, a baby shower, or an afternoon with friends…
Yes, pavlovas are made to impress. And they can be intimidating too. But trust me: there is no mystery. This is one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made. Up to a month ago, it was an “aspirational” dessert for me. My benchmark was my friend Patty’s. Hers is an in between a pavlova and a dacquoise (a nuts and hazelnut meringue.)
I thought making it would be complicated because the meringue would crack and wouldn’t hold the whipped cream plus the generous amount of berries I wanted to add. Even worse: I learned there was something called Swiss meringue (as well as an Italian and French meringues too) so, I was kind of lost.
But stubborn as I’m and committed to do my berry pavlova something that everybody can make, I researched, asked my friends who happen to make their living creating the most fabulous desserts in Paris, Santo Domingo and Miami, and then I did my thing. So I came up with a recipe that is a true mélange of the savoir faire of those who really know.
Of course I chose Swiss meringue because for me Swiss equals perfection. But now that I’m into this meringue fascination, I know I’ll be experimenting with the other meringues too and with more topping flavors including passion fruit, pineapple and mango… or figs, basil and balsamic reduction… Now that I “master” the art of making pavlovas, I see many more meringue-based desserts in my near future…
A tribute to Anna Pavlova
But what about this dessert? Where does it come from? Why is named pavlova? There is a controversy, between New Zealand and Australia about the origin of this meringue, whipped cream and fruit delight. It was created to honor Anna Matveyevna Pavlova, prima ballerina of the Imperial Russian Ballet in the late XIX and early XX centuries. She toured both countries in 1926. Hence, the controversy.
Rules can be broken
There is a rule of thumb in the patisserie world, that states the ratio for a firm and silky meringue is 1:2, that means one part of egg whites and two parts of sugar. However, rules can be broken. I decided to substantially reduce the amount of sugar (120 grams of egg whites and only 180 grams of sugar) and it worked perfectly fine. Bingo!
Working with that sugar amount, the resulting meringue provides a not so sweet nest for what is inside. First, it comes a thin layer of a thick milk caramel called dulce de leche (also known as cajeta or arequipe in Spanish). Second, a good amount of whipped cream and mascarpone cheese mixture, slightly sweetened with some confectioner sugar and flavored with a few drops of almond extract. Finally all the berries you can get… Keep reading…
How to make the best berry pavlova
Following are some tips to make the perfect pavlova. For all of them I’m and will be forever grateful to my dear cousin Gebsy Villarroel (engineer and trained chef pâtissier in Paris), Angelo Taveras (also an engineer and a chef pâtissier by trade in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic), and Mary Selgas (the girl who makes the most beautiful cakes in the Great Miami area).
- Don’t be afraid. You can do it. The only thing you need is to carefully follow the instructions and patience.
- While separating the whites from the egg yolks, make sure there is no trace of yolks in your whites. Do one egg at a time, so if a yolk trace appears, you only have to put that egg white apart. Save the yolks for another purpose (like making crème brûlée.)
- To make sure your meringue is going to properly stiff and form beautiful peaks, “clean” the bowl of your mixer with a lime or lemon (simply cut a lemon and rub the interior of the bowl with it).
- To make sure your meringue is going to remain white as snow, add a few drops of lemon juice while beating it.
- For a supreme pavlova base, add some toasted and ground nuts (I used pecans just because I love them).
- Draw the shape of your meringue in a piece of parchment paper. Dust it with cornstarch to avoid the meringue to stick to the paper.
- Bake your meringue basket at 170˚F, for 2 hours. Come on, I wrote this post while waiting. When your meringue is perfectly baked, let it completely cool down inside the oven.
- Let your baked meringue rest in the oven with the light on until assembling the dessert.
- Assembly your pavlova immediately before serving it.
Berries for the best berry pavlova
For the berries to a have a good support, I simply buried a lot of them in the whipped cream and mascarpone mixture. Then, I just create the beautiful display shown in the picture, by adding the berries randomly and decorating with some fresh spearmint leaves.
When making this dessert my suggestion is to buy the berries the same day or the day before, especially if you’re using organic berries. Also, rinse them well in advance and let the dry at room temperature over paper towels.
While cutting and serving the piece for the picture, I was extra careful so I could show you a transversal cut. That was pretty hard to get. When you serve this dessert it will mess up and look more like an “Eton mess”, a British meringue, whipped cream and fruit dessert. However after impressing your guests, who cares about the mess?
Following is a printable version of my recipe. I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did.
- 120 grams of egg whites (4 egg whites) at room temperature
- 180 grams of sugar
- 1/4 cup of pecans, toasted and finely grounded
- 1 lime
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- ½ cup of mascarpone
- 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon of almond extract
- 3 tablespoons of dulce de leche
- Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 170˚F.
- In a small stainless steel bowl, add the egg whites and the sugar and place in a Bain Marie, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
- Whisk continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved. Touch the mix with your finger to make sure there are no granules.
- Place the mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer. With the globe mix until the meringue is completely cold, stiff, forms peaks and looks like satin.
- Divide the meringue in two halves.
- Add the pecans to a bowl and combine it with half of the meringue.
- Draw the shape of your pavlova over parchment paper and dust it with cornstarch (to avoid the chance of your meringue to stick to the paper).
- With a spatula, fill the shape with the pecan meringue.
- Add a few lemon drops to the rest of the meringue, and combine it with a spatula.
- Distribute the white meringue around the edges of the pecan base, to create sort of a basket.
- Bake for 2 hours.
- Turn off the heat and let the meringue completely cool down inside the oven.
- Freeze the bowl where you’re going to whip the cream.
- With the globe whip the cream and the mascarpone and progressively add the confectioner sugar.
- Once the mixture has the desire consistency, add the almond extract and mix.
- Spread the dulce de leche on the bottom of the meringue (the pecans on).
- Fill the meringue basket with the cream.
- Push some of the berries inside the cream.
- Top off with as many berries as you want.
- Garnish with fresh spearmint.
Hungry for more berries recipes? Check this out: