My fig pavlova has a crispy shell with soft and marshmallow-like center crowned with a delicate orange blossom cream and fresh figs.
To celebrate National Fig Week from November 1st to 7th, I’m sharing one of my favorite desserts, fig pavlova with orange blossom cream. Pavlova is a meringue based dessert topped with whipped cream and fruit named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.
It’s been way too long since I’ve shared a pavlova recipe and with good reasons. Pavlova is my nemesis. Usually 9 out of 10 times my pavlovas get thrown away. It’s not that they’re hard to make. Pavlovas are fickle in nature with many factors affecting the final result. After numerous attempts, I’m happy to share that I finally found a recipe that I’m happy with. Let’s nerd out over pavlovas and hopefully some of the tips I’m sharing below will help you with your pavlova challenges.
The science behind pavlova
Both pavlova and meringue are made from egg whites whipped into a foam, with sugar mixed in slowly and then baked at a low temperature until dry. However a meringue is crispy and dry throughout while a pavlova is crispy on the outside, but fluffy, soft and marshmallow-like on the inside. A few essential ingredients listed below help stabilize the egg whites and maintain its shape.
Sugar: sugar molecules support and stabilize the proteins in egg whites. Superfine sugar dissolves more readily than granulated and is preferable. Make your own by processing granulated sugar in a food processor until powdery for two minutes. I found that a sugar ratio of at least 1 ¾ ounces sugar to one egg white will result in a stable pavlova.
Cream of tartar: is an acid to help stabilize and give more volume to the beaten egg whites.
Vinegar: is an acid used in place of cream of tartar to stabilize and give more volume to the beaten egg whites. I use white wine or distilled white vinegar. You can also use lemon juice in equal amount instead of vinegar.
Cornstarch: stabilizes and keeps the meringue from shrinking when baked.
The Swiss meringue method
Pavlovas can be prepared using three different methods: French, Italian, and Swiss. The most common method is the French meringue where egg whites are whisked until soft peaks form and then caster sugar added slowly until peaks become thick and glossy. The Italian meringue involves whisking egg whites until soft peaks form and then a hot sugar syrup is slowly poured in and beaten until peaks become stiff and glossy.
My favorite method is the Swiss meringue where egg whites and sugar are whisked over a saucepan of simmering water (or double boiler) to warm them to 170 degrees F allowing the egg white proteins to coagulate despite the high concentration of sugar, creating a more stable meringue. Then the mixture is whipped with an electric mixer into stiff, glossy peaks.
Avoid moisture and fat
Humidity is pavlova's nemesis. The sugar in the meringue attracts moisture from the air resulting in a soggy, sticky meringue. Fat is the other enemy of pavlova. Even a trace can prevent the egg whites from whipping to their maximum volume and cause the whipped meringue to fall or deflate. A tiny bit of egg yolk that got into the egg whites, grease in your bowl or whisk, and natural oils on your hands can affect the result of the pavlova. To counter this, I use lemon juice to clean the bowl and whisk to get rid of any grease. Make sure everything that the egg whites touch is unscrupulously clean and dry.
What temperature to bake pavlova
Pavlovas are baked at lower temperature compare to other desserts. I found after baking many pavlovas from 225 degrees F to 300 degrees F, 225 degrees F works the best for my oven. This temperature gave me the perfect texture that is crisp and fragile on the outside but moist and chewy on the inside.
Deflated pavlova: most likely a trace of egg yolk got into the egg whites causing the pavlova to be unstable. Unfortunately, this situation is not salvageable.
Weeping: when liquid seeps out of the pavlova and forms a puddle at the bottom. This could happen due to undissolved sugar not integrated in the egg white structure, absorbing water, and causing weeping. Overbeating the egg whites will also cause them to lose their structure and unable to hold onto the sugar resulting in weeping. Whisking the egg white on low speed introduces the air slowly, decreases risk of over-beating egg whites, and allows the sugar to dissolve completely resulting in a more stable structure.
Beading: overcooking leads to beads of moisture or liquid forming on the pavlova's surface. Try increasing the oven's temperature and decreasing the baking time to prevent the internal temperature from becoming too hot.
Cracking or collapsing: opening the oven door as soon as it's done baking and letting all the heat out will cause cracks to form on the pavlova surface. The sudden change in temperature will cause the center to shrink rapidly resulting in the pavlova cracking and collapsing. Allowing the pavlova to cool down gradually in the oven after baking will prevent the change in temperature. It's also important to NOT open the oven during baking. If the pavlova has collapsed slightly in the center or has cracks, you can still serve the pavlova as long as it’s not weeping. The whipped cream will cover all the cracks and no one will notice.
Brown or burnt pavlova: when the oven temperature is too hot, the pavlova can caramelize and have an off-white color. Reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees F next time you bake.
What to serve pavlova with
The classic pavlova is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits. For my fig pavlova, I drew inspiration from my orange blossom panna cotta recipe. I added a touch of orange blossom water to the whipped cream and sweetened it with powdered sugar. Fresh figs, pistachios, and a drizzle of honey go over the orange blossom whipped cream. It's best to add the whipped cream and fruit just before serving so that the pavlova shell stays crisp.
This fig pavlova with orange blossom cream has a crispy shell with fluffy marshmallow-like center crowned with a delicate orange blossom cream and fresh figs. I was too excited and opened the oven too soon after the pavlova was done baking so a few cracks happened. They're part of the charms of pavlovas and didn't take away from the deliciousness of this glorious dessert.
Fig pavlova with orange blossom cream
- 4 egg whites (125 gm)
- 1 ¼ cups caster sugar (225 gm)
- 2 tsps cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup mascarpone
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 pint figs, quartered
- 2 tbsps toasted pistachios, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoon honey
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to line a baking tray. Trace an 8-inch circle on the paper then place on baking tray, traced-side down.
- For the meringue, place egg whites in a bowl of a stand mixer (or a heatproof bowl) set over a saucepan of gently simmering water to make a double boiler making sure the water does not touch the bottom.
- Using a large balloon whisk, gradually whisk in the sugar. Whisking constantly, heat the egg and sugar mixture until it reads 170°F on a candy thermometer and the mixture starts to froth and sugar dissolves.
- Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the mix on high speed for about 5 minutes until stiff peaks form.
- Turn the mixer to low, add in the vinegar and corn starch, then whisk on high speed for another minute until well combined.
- Place a smidge of the meringue in each corner of the baking sheet to stick down the parchment paper so that it does not move when you are shaping the pavlova.
- Spread meringue mixture over the circle on the baking paper, making an indent in the center for the filling. Use an offset spatula to create swirls and swoops on the meringue.
- Place the pavlova in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 225°F. Bake the pavlova for 70-75 minutes. When the pavlova is done baking, without opening the oven door, turn off the oven and allow the pavlova to cool in the oven for a minimum of two hours.
- Transfer the baked pavlova to a serving platter.
- Whip the mascarpone, heavy cream, orange blossom water, and powdered sugar together until thick and smooth and soft peaks form.
- Pile the whipped orange blossom cream into the meringue and top with fresh figs, pistachios, and honey.