While there is a great controversy as to whether Australia or New Zealand invented the Pavlova, one thing is known for certain: The famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova never tasted the creation subsequent to its being “officially” named for her, as that occurred three years after her death.
In 1934, Mrs. Elizabeth Paxton, owner of the Hotel Esplanade, where Anna had stayed during her Australian tour, asked her chef, Bert Sachse, to create a new dessert for afternoon tea. The story goes that Chef Sachse spent a month creating the new dessert and, when it was first presented, either Mrs. Paxton or the hotel manager was said to exclaim, “it is as light as Pavlova!” and the name was set.
The controversy as to who really created the Pavlova stems from the fact that a recipe for a very similar dessert with practically the same name–Pavlova Cakes—had previously been published in New Zealand in 1929, the year of Anna Pavlova’s Australian tour. The only difference was that Pavlova Cakes were made as individual servings, while Chef Sachse’s dessert served several guests. In a diplomatic effort, the following recipe makes both the individual New Zealand version and the larger one created by Chef Sachse.
A properly prepared Pavlova features crisp meringue on the outside and a soft, chewy, marshmallowlike center. The vinegar and cornstarch both contribute to this effect, but it is also important that the meringue is refrigerated for several hours after being topped with the whipped cream to ensure the correct texture. While strawberries and kiwis are the classic choices for Pavlova, don’t let this stop you from using any ripe seasonal berry or stone fruit, especially if you are making the large version.