Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fail: Pavlova

This is really more of an aesthetic/structural fail than a problem taste-wise.  Every last bit of the pavlova was scarfed when the topping was added to create a spot-on combination of crunchy sugar, barely sweetened cream, and tart fresh fruit to round things out.  But as you can see, instead of the lovely light New Zealand meringue cake resembling a ballerina's tutu, we have a completely fallen marshmallowy pancake.  I used this basic recipe sketch from Joy of Baking and felt super confident up until the point where I heard cracking and shattering about 10 minutes into the cooling process.

I thoroughly cleaned my utensils and bowls of all grease.  No yolk was to be found.  Egg whites came to room temperature before beating.  Delicately folded in the starch, acid, and vanilla.  Piled inside a perfectly drawn circle.  Baked at a nice low temperature.  And then splat.

Suspected reasons for fail:
  • Using arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch.  I don't think this was a problem since Joy of Baking told me I can do this on a 1-1 basis, and elsewhere it states that arrowroot can contribute to a glossier appearance and be otherwise beneficial in baked goods.
  • No salt.  Other recipes have salt.  What does this do?  No clue.  According to this website, salt can actually increases protein coagulation and makes it more difficult to beat air into the whites and hold the structure of the air bubbles.  So also probably not the culprit, but I might try this next time to see if it tastes better.
  • No cream of tartar.  In theory, vinegar does the same thing since they are both acids added to help stabilize the air bubble formation, but a pinch of this added after the eggs are beaten to foamy might help things stay put.
  • Adding an extra egg white on the same size base.  Possibly caused
  • Rushing the cooling process.  I'm almost positive this is what happened since I decided that it would be a great idea to cook pavlova (at 275F) and ciabatta (at 475F) in the same oven on the same night.  In theory this should have been no problem by cooking the bread first, but as that turned out to be a nearly six hour process, things didn't quite go as planned and the "open crack" that was left in the oven door might have been a bit larger than it should have been to get the cake out and on with.

Next time I will:
Pavlova of my dreams.
Image via Stuff.co.nz

  • Add a pinch of salt and cream of tartar.  For experimentation's sake.
  • Use the rim of my 9 inch spring form pan, lined with parchment and oil-sprayed.  The goal is height and fluff people, and this might help to keep things from expanding outward and coax it upwards.  And make it look more like this:
  • For the love of pete, not open the oven.  Not once.  Just looking through the door to check progress.  Cool very slowly overnight.  No peeking!
Well, off see what Harold McGee has to say about this.


  1. Abbey! if you want a deliciously chewy pavlova, rather than a spongey one, i have a no-fail recipe!

  2. The lack of an 'after' photo and/or testimonial of guests who were lucky enough to sample this dessert does a true disservice to the tastiness of your efforts. A+.

  3. Soph - Yes please send recipe! Also, I did not know that you had a blog. It rules and you definitely should write more.

  4. Abbey!

    So glad you decided to follow through and start this blog! Very refreshing! Keep writing! :)