Whenever I tell someone that I’m making a pavlova the response is the same: sheer joy. Even the most fervent pudding-denier struggles to resist a slice of pav. It makes sense – fragile, crisp meringue with a tender, mallowy centre, soft waves of cream and some kind of fruit is such a brilliant combination.
You don’t often see pavlovas on restaurant menus. There’s a good reason for that. A little like a trifle, part of the joy of a pavlova is that it arrives at the table looking unruffled: fruit perched perkily on clouds of cream atop a mountain of meringue. Then, as soon as the spoon hits it, it’s a mess. You cannot dish it up in a way that avoids the fundamental chaos of splintering meringue and squirting cream. It must be finished in one sitting.
I went through a phase of piping both my meringue mixture and my cream, but I now think that goes against the spirit of pavlova. Pavlovas aren’t meant to be fussy: their beauty is in their swoops and swirls, the undulation of the meringue and cream, the generous scattering of the topping, fruit juices dribbling down the side. And if it cracks a little in the oven, it really doesn’t matter: you’re going to cover it with cream and nobody cares anyway.
For a long time, I made only the same two pavlovas that my mother did: the first – considered the virtuous option – a mixture of red summer fruits; the second, a cascade of mini marshmallows and a storm of chocolate shavings on top of the cream. It sounds like a pavlova created by a six-year-old, but my sister and I had no hand in it. We wished! Mum would make it for charity lunches and, once made, it would be left in the cool porch, with strict instructions that we were not to go anywhere near it.