Vanilla-Almond Pavlova

Pavlova is one of my secret-weapon desserts. It’s elegant and impressive enough to be perfect for dinner parties and special occasions and its light enough that people will really dig in and enjoy a huge portion. 

If you aren’t familiar with this lovely meringue-type confection, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The pavlova was invented in either New Zealand or Australia (this is a point of controversy between the two nations) and is named after the lovely ballerina Anna Pavlova. She’s a fascinating woman, as an aside, and you should read about her

The reason I consider pavlova to be a secret-weapon is two-fold:

  • First, I can actually serve the entire thing to my guests. This is not the case when I’m baking cake or cookies. Not at all. Without fail, when I attempt to make cookies I just end up eating way too much cookie dough and then I’m over it when the actual cookies are done baking. I have to outsmart my sweet tooth if I’m truly going to enjoy a dessert. This recipe makes one pavlova, so it’s not like I can sneak little bites of it prior to serving. And although the fluffy egg whites are pretty, I’m not tempted to devour it raw like I am with cake and cookie batter. 
  • Second, pavlova can be made a couple of days ahead of time and it stays just as crunchy and delicious. It’s perfect when I want to focus my efforts on a complicated appetizer or main course. 

The key to a perfect pavlova is whipping the egg whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks: 

I served this heart-shaped pavlova to my valentine. He had been out of town for work all week and I wanted to surprise him when he got home (which was during the day, so I was at work). The fresh fruits on top can match the holiday (like using raspberries and strawberries for Valentine’s Day, or strawberries and kiwi for Christmas). However, my Valentine is a big fan of Team America, so I knew he’d like the red, white, and blue look:

We have a kind of odd Valentines tradition of ordering pizza. We eat so well all of the time, and I think restaurants overcharge and underdeliver on Valentine’s Day. Plus there’s so much hype. Last time I went to a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, I overheard the couple behind me just nit-picking her poor date to death about how high her expectations were and how disappointed she was about everything. I wanted to invite him to join us instead. But that would be weird. Anyway, we love pizza and my “poor, deprived husband” doesn’t have it too often since I cook so much.

So, I make appetizers, cocktails, and a dessert, and then we enjoy a big piece of pizza! I set the table with the gorgeous china that my sweet sister-in-law gave to us and a bit of sparkle:

Complete with seating arrangements, so my dinner guest wouldn’t get confused about where to sit: 

Pavlova is very malleable. It’s ideally served as one large circle to get the full effect of the crunchy exterior and lighter-than-air interior. However, you can serve it in smaller, individual portions, but I’ll again warn you that the larger size is best. 

I made the pavlova first thing in the morning on Valentine’s Day before going to work. It bakes for an hour, so when I say “first thing” in the morning, I mean it. But it was worth it. We had a great night in and a beautiful dessert. 

Vanilla-Almond Pavlova
Yields 1 pavlova, serves ~6

You will need:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 tsp. each lemon juice and lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • Fresh fruit to top (sliced kiwis, strawberries, and blueberries)
  • Powdered sugar (to dust over the top, if desired)

  • Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw an ~9 inch circle on the paper (or a heart, if you so desire). 
  • In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add in the sugar (1/4 cup at a time), beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the egg white mixture is thick and glossy. 
  • Gently fold in lemon juice and zest, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and cornstarch. 
  • Transfer the pavlova from the bowl to the baking sheet by starting to spoon out the pavlova in the center of the circle and spreading outward. Build a slight “edge” and make sure the center is slightly depressed. 
  • Bake for one hour and let cool. 
  • Prior to serving, beat heavy cream until peaks form. Top pavlova with whipped cream, fresh fruit, and powdered sugar, if desired. 
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