Kitchen Tips

Test kitchen secrets: How to make the perfect pavlova meringue

Does your pavlova meringue crack, weep or just turn out different every time? We've asked the experts why, and have all the tips and tricks you'll need for perfecting this classic Aussie dessert.

Sugar to egg white ratio

The classic pavlova meringue recipe proportion is 1/4 cup (55 grams) sugar to 1 egg white, but this can be increased or decreased slightly to compensate for the varying sizes of egg whites.
It's also possible to intentionally increase or decrease the classic proportion of sugar to egg white for different results.
A higher amount of sugar will give a more crusty, crisp, drier meringue, which is good for meringue cases that need to be stored then filled later. If the meringues are nicely dried out in the oven, they will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for many weeks. A lesser amount of sugar will give a much softer, less crusty meringue – this needs to be eaten soon after baking.

No yolk, please!

Egg whites won’t whip if they come into contact with any fat, so it’s important to make sure you don’t end up with any yolk when you separate your eggs. If you do, you can usually scoop out the scrap of yolk by dipping the shell into the whites – this is also the best way to extricate any shell that might end up in the bowl during separation.

Keep it clean

The bowl, beaters and spatula must be scrupulously clean and dry as any residual fat will stop the whites from beating up. There’s no remedy if this happens. Use the whites for something else or throw them out.
Be extra careful as plastic can be quite tricky to get clean - look for hidden fats, for example those left on the beater/s or the spatula after baking.

Cornflour and vinegar

Some recipes call for cornflour and vinegar, which can help give the pavlova a marshmallowey centre. We don't think it makes much difference but some cooks swear by it; others, like us, think the dissolving of the sugar and the baking is far more important. Try both ways to decide for yourself.

Shaping the pavlova

Cover a flat oven tray with low or no sides with a sheet of baking paper, greasing the tray lightly to hold the paper in place if you like. Sift a little cornflour evenly over the paper, covering the area where the pavlova will be and 5cm beyond to allow for the pavlova to expand.
Use a metal spatula – they smooth the mixture as they spread. Mound the pavlova mixture in the centre of the oven tray. Spread it out to the size you want – have a circle marked on the tray – smooth the mixture on the top, then work on the side of the pavlova.
Some recipes recommend marking grooves up the side of the pavlova, supposedly to add some strength to the shape. Neaten the top again then put the pavlova into the oven, usually the second shelf from the bottom.

Is it done?

The pavlova will feel firm and dry when it’s done. The average-sized pavlova needs to dry out at a really low oven temperature for about 1½ hours, and it should be as white as possible. If you can spare it, extra time in the oven, still at a low temperature, will make the crust of the pavlova harder and in general easier to handle.
As the pavlova cools down it starts to absorb moisture from the air, which causes the crust to soften then collapse in on top of the marshmallow. It leaves a perfect recess for the fruit and cream.

Troubleshoooting

Why does my meringue turn out different every time?
The weather, particularly wet or humid weather, affects the success of pavlovas. Sugar absorbs and holds moisture from the air, and this can cause the crust on the baked meringue or pavlova to weep and/or collapse on standing. It’s almost impossible to prevent this, but drying out the meringue for longer in the oven is your best bet.
Why does my pavlova crack?
This is just what homemade pavlovas do, especially in humid or wet weather when the meringue crust absorbs moisture from the air. Always add the cream to the pavlova as late as possible; just before serving is best.
Why does my pavlova weep?
If the sugar doesn’t dissolve properly the meringue can “weep” droplets of moisture during and after baking. Beat the egg whites only until soft peaks form before you start adding the sugar; if you beat the whites until they are stiff and dry, the sugar will take longer to dissolve.
To check that the sugar is properly dissolved rub a small quantity of the egg-white mixture between your fingertips to see if it's smooth.
“Weeping” isn’t the end of the world, however, it’s just an appearance thing. The pavlova will still taste as yummy, it just mightn’t look as good.

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