Pavlova and Potluck Party Etiquette

We all love Pavlova here. Pavlova is not the name of a Russian dog, it is not Anna Karenina’s perfume, it is not a flower from Gorky Park. It is a dessert from New Zealand (they call it a “pav”) that involves meringue baked to a marshmallowy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside gorgeousness and topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Other fruit can be used, but it should be juicy and a bit acidic. Kiwi fruit, raspberries, passionfruit, da! Apples, bananas, apricots, nyet! Blackberries, mmmmm. It is remarkably easy to make and even easier to suck down.

Pavlova

  • 6 egg whites at room temperature (I put them in a bowl of warm water while I arrange everything else)
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cold water
  • 2 t. white vinegar
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 6 t. cornstarch

Start by finding the serving dish(es) you want to use. This recipe makes two round 8-10 inch pavlovas. I’m often bringing this dessert to dinner parties so I use my carrying server. Cut parchment to fit two half-sheet aluminum pans and use the dish as a template so that you can pencil an outline of the border of your pavlova so it’s not too big. It will expand when it bakes, so be conservative. Place the pencil-side of the parchment paper down on the pans. Preheat the oven to 300F.

Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the water and whip some more. Add the sugar very slowly, in a very narrow constant stream while you whip (KitchenAid mixers are good for this), scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Then add the vinegar, vanilla and cornstarch.

Divide the pavlova mixture between your two pans. I make a round and then scoop out the middle a bit so the cream and fruit has somewhere to go.

Pavlova before baking

Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the oven off and let cool 4-5 hours or overnight.

Pavlova after baking

To serve, scoop on whipped cream (each pavlova will require 2 c. of cream, whipped, and many many sliced strawberries macerated in sugar (or agave syrup, yum)! About 2-3 lbs berries per pavlova because people always want more to scoop on top.

Madame Pavlova all dressed up and ready to go!

I have in the past used the whole half-sheet pan to make a big rectangular pavlova that I’ve just served straight from the parchment paper for a crowd. It works.

A note on bringing food to potlucks: If you want to make your hostess’ blood pressure shoot up, by all means, arrive with bags of groceries instead of a finished dish. Hostesses love this. It’s right up there with arriving with a big bunch of flowers in paper so that the hostess has to drop everything to find a vase and cut and arrange flowers just when she’s got 14 dishes to finish and guests arriving at the rate of 2 per minute. It’s really relaxing to arrange flowers in the middle of all that. Go ahead and assemble your dish there in your hostess’ kitchen. She has nothing better to do than find you a cutting board, a knife, a mixing bowl, and a serving bowl and spoon. She’s more than happy to alter the temperature of her oven for your dish, even if it burns the expensive roast and casserole she’s already got cooking inside. Fridge space? No problem. She’ll put her salad and dessert out on the back porch to make room for your stuff. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have cider vinegar, so you better bring your own. Seriously? Make the dish, entire, in your own kitchen. Use your own serving dishes and spoons because your hostess may not have extra to spare. If your dish needs time in the oven or fridge space, inquire well ahead of time if that will be possible because maybe it won’t be.

Just my experience. I learned from my mom – we always brought everything ready to go. If we brought a cake, we brought a knife and cake server as well as ice cream and a scoop. You can never assume that your hostess will have ingredients or tools that you need. My mom also taught me to label my serving dishes for big dinners with yellow sticky notes – the big platter has a note that says “turkey”, the large bowl with lid is labeled “mashed potatoes” and so on (of course we heated serving dishes with boiling water before we added the food). That way every serving dish has an allotted food item and you don’t run out. Also, your guest who wanted to bring something but neglected to bring a serving dish can’t steal one of yours, forcing you to serve cranberry sauce from a cereal bowl.

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