In 1905, prima ballerina Anna Pavlova premiered a solo ballet created just for her, “The Dying Swan,” which she would go on to dance about 4,000 times before her death in 1931.
“It was a combination of masterful technique with expressiveness,” Michel Fokine, the piece’s choreographer, said of his composition in a 1931 interview for Dance Magazine. Fokine called the groundbreaking work “almost an improvisation.”
It is with the improvisational spirit of Pavlova’s performance that I approach my Pavlova (the meringue dessert, not the dancer). Egg whites, sugar and cream are an ideal blank canvas for nearly anything — including the Oreos in my pantry, which have a bitter, chocolaty essence that I adore.
The Pavlova, named after the ballerina, is, first and foremost, an ethereal pudding (in the British sense of the word). A meringue disk topped with freshly whipped cream and fruit, the dessert dances between crispy and chewy, between sweetness and relief. Everything in life needs balance, and a classic Pavlova is a paragon of balance.
If you have ever attempted a Pavlova at home, then you know that the joy of making one comes from how its shape turns out differently every time. There is no assigned pan, just the free-form expanse of your imagination. Some like to draw a circle on parchment as a guide. But try this instead: Give in to the billowy, mercurial nature of the meringue’s natural movements. Let it fall where it falls. After all, it’s not cake; it’s Pavlova.
What makes a Pavlova especially delightful is the way a majority of its volume comes from air, which is beaten into the egg whites and sugar until they become thick and voluminous, like Marshmallow Fluff. This snowy mound dolloped into a very loose, amorphous round with peaks and swirls is baked low and slow until crackled and crisp at the edges. As the meringue cools on the counter, it deflates, creating Pavlova’s quintessential chewy center.
A standard Pavlova — in the New Zealand and Australian traditions — comes with juicy fruit on top. Sweet-tart strawberries, kiwis and passion fruit are all fair game.
But here, the meringue leans into the nostalgic taste of cookies and cream. Oreos not only lend that teeter-totter of milky filling and bittersweet wafers, but they also keep the center of the meringue moist and fluffy. The Oreo “creme,” coupled with the moisture in egg whites, softens the crisp, cocoa-dark cookies into gooey pockets of chocolate.
Fans of the marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal will delight in this four-ingredient Pavlova, whose flavor is reminiscent of those hearts, stars and horseshoes. Offsetting the meringue’s sweetness is a crown of whipped cream — like the milk you drink at the end of a bowl of cereal.
If chocolate sandwich cookies aren’t your thing, then maybe your meringue base is streaked with peanut butter or dusted with freeze-dried raspberries. This is your Pavlova. Express yourself in it.
The story goes that Pavlova, a dessert which both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to, is named after the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who performed in both countries in the 1920s. Pavlova’s tutu, billowing round with layers of lace, is the inspiration for the creamy meringue dessert. This simple version combines a crackled, speckled meringue disk — crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside — and a swoopy crown of salted whipped cream.
By Eric Kim
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 2 3/4 hours
For the meringue:
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup/151 grams sugar
10 chocolate sandwich cookies (113 grams), such as Oreos
For the topping:
2 cups/480 milliliters heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
5 chocolate sandwich cookies (57 grams), such as Oreos
1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Make the meringue: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the egg whites and salt. Whisk on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. While the machine is still going, slowly add the sugar in a narrow stream, then raise the speed to high. Whisk the egg whites until glossy, stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. When you lift the whisk out of the bowl and turn it upside-down, a meringue mountain peak should form without flopping over.
3. Coarsely crush or chop the 10 cookies and add to the meringue. Gently stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon until the cookies ripple throughout.
4. Mound the meringue onto the center of the parchment-lined sheet pan and, using the spatula or spoon, gently form into a round that’s about 8 to 9 inches wide and 2 to 3 inches high. You can encourage this shape by repeating a circular motion that swirls the meringue and creates lovely waves so the surface doesn’t look smooth. When you’re happy with your disk, make one final circular motion in the center to create an indent, where you’ll pool the whipped cream later.
5. Bake the meringue for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven, leaving the door shut, and let the meringue finish cooking in the residual heat until crisp and dry on the outside with a springy, marshmallowy interior (but it should not be wet), 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the meringue from the oven and let it sit on the counter to cool completely.
6. While the meringue cools, make the topping: In a large, clean bowl or in the stand mixer (with a clean bowl), whisk together the heavy cream, sugar and salt until billowy soft peaks form. When you turn the whisk upside-down, a peak of cream should flop over slightly like a Santa hat.
7. Pile the whipped cream on top of the cooled meringue, leaving a border, and top the cream with the 5 cookies, crushing them over the cream with your hands or chopping them and sprinkling them on top. Slice and serve the Pavlova like a cake.