Anna Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina of the late 19th and early 20th century. She was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. She is the most recognised for the creation of the role The Dying Swan and with her own ballet company, she became the first ballerina to tour ballet around the world.
Around 1962, Anna toured Australia and New Zealand. She was a true celebrity, admired and adored by everyone wherever she went. Incidentally, both Australians and New Zealanders claim that a chef residing in their country created the popular desert Pavlova, in honour of the ballerina. New Zealanders say that a chef at the Wellington Hotel was inspired by Anna’s tutu and wanted to create something billowy. The Australians say that a chef in an establishment in Perth invented the dessert, which was later named as the Pavlova when one of the diner’s at the restaurant claimed it was as light as the ballerina.
Today, the Pavlova as we know it is a light meringue-based dessert. However, the first time this dessert was mentioned in a book, it was more of a multi-layered jelly rather than a meringue dessert.
Recent investigations by researchers Annabelle Ultrecht and Andrew Paul Wood of both countries suggest that the dessert may not have been created in Australia or New Zealand at all. They say that there is evidence pointing that the dessert originated in Germany and in America. their research went on for about two years as they browsed through hundreds of recipes to trace the true origins of this amazing dessert. According to their research, there were about 150 recipes for Pavlova-like desserts published well before the ballet dancer even arrived in Australia and New Zealand. In fact, they indicate that the dessert may be much older and have been created even before Anna was born.
This makes Pavlova all the more interesting as the dessert has travelled way more than most people can imagine. The Pavlova can be traced back to a pretty cream, fruit and meringue torte named Spanische Windtorte. this dessert was very popular in the 18th century and was particularly loved by the Austrian Habsburgs. The general recipe travelled to America with the German immigrants that settled in the Midwest. Once it landed on American shores, it was developed further. when the hand-cranked egg beater was invented in the 1800s, recipes with meringue became more popular because they were now easier to make.
the researchers found hundreds of variations of Pavlova-like desserts in American cookbooks from this period. It is possible then that the recipe travelled to Australia and New Zealand on the back of a cornstarch box. Pavlova requires cornstarch to create a marshmallow like texture inside the meringue. Around the time the dessert was first mentioned in Australia and New Zealand, cornstarch was imported from America.
It is believed that manufacturers might have printed the recipe on the back of the box as a good way to use cornstarch. This practice is still followed by manufacturers for different ingredients.
However, it is agreed upon that it is the New Zealanders or the Australians who named the dessert as Pavlova and have kept it alive over the years. All other variations of this dessert have died a silent death and are no longer popular.
The Pavlova is made by beating egg whites (and sometimes salt) to a stiff consistency, gradually adding caster sugar, before adding in the vinegar (or any other acid like cream of tartar, lemon juice, etc), cornflour, and sometimes some vanilla essence. The mixture is then slow baked. The pavlova has a crunchy and crisp outer shell, with a soft and moist centre. The cornflour is responsible for the marshmallow like centre. This makes the pavlova more fragile than a usual meringue. If exposed to cold air, the pavlova will deflate and lose its structure. This makes it essential that the Pavlova is left inside the oven once the cooking is done to fully cool before the oven door is opened.
Have you tried the Pavlova? What do you think about its interesting history? Do you like the Pavlova? Tell us more in the comments.