The Perfect Pavlova should be snowy white, crisp on the outside and slightly marshmallowy on the inside. Getting it right every time is easy if you follow a few basic guidelines. Check out my step-by-step guide, recipe video and be sure to read the troubleshooting tips based on personal pavlova flops!
Check out my guide to Perfect Meringue Nests
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I have updated my popular 2017 guide on How to Make the Perfect Pavlova to include a recipe video, illustrated step-by-step guide and even MORE answers to common questions. I hope you will find it helpful in creating the best pavlova ever, the first time and every time after that!
What’s in a name
Pavlova was created for – and named after – the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova while she was touring New Zealand in 1926. There has since been some controversy over the origins of this dessert.
Both Australia and New Zealand have laid claim to the recipe but I will let them fight it out among themselves! What is unquestionable is that the dessert is still enormously popular in both countries and around the world.
What is a pavlova?
Pavlova is a glorious dessert made simply from egg whites and sugar (meringue). It has a unique squidgy texture thanks to the addition of vinegar (or lemon) and a little cornflour (cornstarch).
The egg whites are whipped until they reach soft peaks and then the sugar is added very gradually until the meringue is light as air, glossy and so thick you could hold the bowl over your head without fearing it would fall out. Not that I advise you to do that last part!
The meringue is then spooned or piped onto a tray and baked for a long time – usually over an hour – at a low temperature which dries it out until it becomes crisp on the outside while retaining some moisture within.
Once the pavlova shell has cooled it is filled – usually with freshly whipped sweetened cream and fresh berries or tropical fruit which undercut some of the sweetness.
Making the perfect pavlova every time takes a little practice but once you master the recipe you will have perfect results every time!
Blitz the sugar in a food processor for a few seconds. You want the granules to become smaller so they dissolve more easily but not so small that you end up with powdered sugar. I use caster sugar (superfine sugar) but you can also use granulated sugar provided you process it first.
TOP TIP If you find that getting the sugar to dissolve takes FOREVER (and sometimes it does!) you can use my Swiss Meringue Pavlova recipe (pictured below). In this version the egg whites and sugar are heated together first so the sugar dissolves and the meringue is more stable.
Wipe the stand mixer with lemon juice or vinegar to get rid of all traces of grease. Make sure the whisk and any spatulas etc. are also squeaky clean!
Weigh your egg whites! Lots of pavlova recipes go by the number of eggs instead of weight of egg whites but eggs can contain varying amounts of albumen. One large egg usually contains two tablespoons of egg white (30ml/1 fl oz) – use this as a guide when working out the ratio for your recipe (see below). For best results rely on digital scales.
Ratio of egg whites to sugar: I prefer to go one part eggs to two parts sugar. For example 5 egg whites (150ml) will need 300g sugar. You can reduce the amount slightly if you like.
Leftover meringue can be piped into kisses or meringue cookies. Use these to decorate your Pavlova or cakes. They can be baked at the same low temperature but they will probably be ready in 60 minutes – test one by lifting off the tray.
Choose the right oven temperature: This is a big factor in pavlova success and sometimes ovens can be a bit temperamental! Please note I have given the temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit so make sure you pick the right degrees for your location/oven. If you know your oven runs hot or cold (perhaps your cakes always burn or are always uneven?) it would be worth investing in an oven thermometer.
TOP TIP Adjusting for high altitude – according to a few forums it is best to bake at 110°C (225°F) for 90 minutes -2 hours. I have had a few readers experience issues with baking at my suggested temperature of 90°C (195°F) which I haven’t had any issues with, having tested this recipe extensively. If in doubt bake at this slightly higher temperature.s
If you are using a fan forced oven the recommendation is to reduce the temperature by 15-20 degrees. I prefer to turn the fan off when making pavlova or macarons.
How to tell if a pavlova is cooked: Avoid opening the oven while the pavlova is baking – cook for nearly 2 hours and then leave in the (turned off) oven to cool down, ideally for several hours or overnight. If you can’t resist checking, wait until the oven door doesn’t feel hot any more. Your pavlova shell should feel crisp and dry and lift off the parchment paper without difficulty. If it is sticking to paper continue to cook for a bit longer.
UPATE: A few readers have reported the pavlova is still too raw in the middle so I have adjusted the cooking time slightly. However having tested this recipe many times and researched pavlova recipes in general, I see that these comments are common across the board even if the recipe calls for a higher cooking temperature. I can only suggest you make a note when you bake this (or any other pavlova recipe) to find the optimum cooking time for you.
How to make pavlova
Take a look at this step by step tutorial – please note you will find the full recipe, including ingredients in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Preheat the oven to to 130°C (270°F) and place the shelf in the middle or lower end of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper and trace a 20cm (8in) circle on it. Alternatively you can make two smaller pavlovas of 15cm (6in) but you might need to bake them on two trays.
Wipe your mixer bowl with lemon juice. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the mixing bowl and briefly mix together with a balloon whisk to combine. Start whisking on LOW SPEED until the egg whites start to form large and then smaller bubbles and become foamy.
Continue whisking on MEDIUM SPEED until the egg whites have formed soft peaks. Start adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time while whisking on medium speed. Be patient, it can take as long as 10 minutes for all the sugar to be incorporated.
Increase the speed to MEDIUM HIGH and continue whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Feel a small amount of meringue between your fingers – if it feels gritty then the sugar hasn’t fully dissolved yet.
Add the lemon juice (or vinegar), cornflour (cornstarch) and vanilla paste and whisk them in for 30 seconds until incorporated.
Pile the meringue on your tray, quite high, to fill the circle you traced. Use an offset spatula to shape it, making a small indent in the centre. Alternatively you can pipe the meringue instead of freestyling for a more structured look or make mini pavlovas (meringue nests).
Bake for 20 minutes then REDUCE the oven temperature to 90°C (195°F) or up to 110°C (225°F) please see notes about altitude. Bake for a further 90 minutes without opening the oven door. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool inside the oven for 5-6 hours or overnight to avoid cracks. At this point you can store the cooled meringue shells in an airtight container for several days.
Fill your pavlova with softly whipped double (heavy) cream when you are ready to serve. Do not fill in advance as the cream will cause the meringue to soften and you will end up with an Eton mess!
Decorate with fresh berries or tropical fruit. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Pavlova Troubleshooting and FAQs
My meringue won’t whip! Make sure that no egg yolk has gotten into your egg whites otherwise they won’t froth up no matter how hard you try. Your mixing bowl and beaters MUST BE spotlessly clean and free of any grease. It is best to use a metal or glass bowl as plastic can hold on to grease. I usually wipe the bowl with a little lemon juice to make sure it is pavlova-ready!
What type of egg whites? Pasteurised egg whites from a carton are very convenient but they don’t reach the perfect stiff peaks – for the best results use real eggs. Since you will be left with lots of egg yolks, I like to make pavlova whenever I make lemon curd or spaghetti carbonara thereby killing two birds with one stone. My Swiss Meringue pavlova uses egg whites from a carton.
My pavlova is weeping! Don’t dissolve into tears yourself – just make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before baking. Feel the meringue between your fingers – if it is gritty then you need to keep whisking. I like to blitz my sugar in a food processor until the granules are small and fine (but not so much that you have powdered sugar).
My pavlova is completely flat! The culprit is usually a too-hot oven if you have followed the recipe to the letter. I usually preheat the oven to 130C (270F) but reduce the heat to as low as 90°C (195°F) once the pavlova goes in. PLEASE SEE NOTES ABOUT OVEN TEMPERATURE!
My pavlova is brown! Your oven is too hot or has hot spots. You might need to experiment to see what temperature works best for you and your oven. If in doubt, cook at a slightly lower temperature for a little longer. Turn the oven off and let your pavlova cool in the oven to avoid cracks.
Can you make Vegan Pavlova? Yes you can! Replace the egg whites with equal amount aquafaba (the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas) and follow the recipe in the same way.
Do I really need to add vinegar and cornflour? Well… I have made pavlovas without either of those ingredients and they worked just fine. I prefer to use lemon juice instead of vinegar but they both work in the same way.
Can you make a sugar-free version? There are recipes which use granulated sweetener (xylitol) instead of real sugar but the results are simply not the same. Sugar helps the meringue become glossy and form stiff peaks and it creates the characteristic crisp texture once baked. You CAN make reduced sugar pavlova by replacing some of the sugar with sweetener – the meringue will not be as stiff and the texture is definitely different but not bad!
The Perfect Pavlova | Step By Step Guide
For the pavlova
- 180 ml | 1 ¼ cup egg whites from 6 large eggs
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- 360 g | 12.6 oz caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cornflour cornstarch
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
To fill and decorate
- 500 g | 2 cups double cream
- 125 g | 1 cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
- 6 tbsp lemon or passionfruit curd OPTIONAL
- 300g | 10 ½ oz fresh berries (one large punnet of berries)
- icing sugar to dust (powdered sugar)
- Preheat the oven to to 130C (270F) and place the shelf in the middle or lower end of the oven. Line a large tray with greaseproof paper and trace a 20cm (8in) circle on it.
- Wipe your mixer bowl with lemon juice. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the mixing bowl and briefly mix together with a balloon whisk to combine.
- Start whisking on LOW SPEED until the egg whites start to form large and then smaller bubbles and become foamy.
- Continue whisking on medium-low speed until the egg whites have formed soft peaks. Start adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time while whisking on medium speed. Be patient, it can take as long as 10 minutes for all the sugar to be incorporated.
- Increase the speed to medium high and continue whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Feel a small amount of meringue between your fingers – if it feels gritty then the sugar hasn’t fully dissolved yet.
- Continue to whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved and the meringue is stiff and glossy.
- Add the lemon juice (or vinegar), cornflour and vanilla paste and whisk them in for 30 seconds.
- Pile the meringue on your tray, quite high, to fill the circle you traced. Use an offset spatula to shape it, making a small indent in the centre. Alternatively you can pipe the meringue instead of freestyling for a more structured look.
- Bake for 20 minutes then REDUCE the oven temperature to 90°C (195°F) or up to 110°C (225°F) please see notes about altitude. Bake for a further 90 minutes without opening the oven door. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool inside the oven for 5-6 hours or overnight to avoid cracks. At this point you can store the cooled meringue shells in an airtight container for several days.*** READERS BAKING AT HIGH ALTITUDE: Bake at 110°C (230°F).
- Whisk the cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract until you have soft to medium peaks.
- Ripple the lemon curd into the whipped cream and fill the pavlova once you are ready to serve (do not fill in advance).
- Pile a handful of fresh berries over the top and serve with a dusting of icing sugar.