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It’s Christmas, Time to End the Pavlova Wars

Melbourne, Australia & Wellington, New Zealand


Just mention the word 'pavlova' to an Aussie or a Kiwi, and you will see a different kind of 'pavlovian response.' Their mouths will water, eyes will close as they imagine themselves feasting on the creamy dessert with its meringue exterior, marshmallow insides, and fruity topping. But mention the word in the presence of both Aussie and Kiwi and get ready for a lengthy argument over which country first invented the heavenly delight. The Pavlova (or 'pav') is claimed by Australia and New Zealand as a national dish. For those who have tried it, you can understand why both countries want to have the honour of 'inventing' such a sweet dish. The pav is eaten all year round but has become a popular course on Christmas Day, which occurs during summer in both Australia and New Zealand. As a result, North American and European Christmas desserts such as Christmas pudding or meringue pies which are meant to be eaten hot to warm up diners, are not very popular. But Pavlova is intended to be served cold, which bodes well for those trying to stay cool in 30+ weather (Leach, 2008). And since it is the season of giving, I thought it would only be fair to my ANZAC brethren to bury the hatchet and end this century-long debate. The time has come to go over our past and prove who gets to claim the Pavlova once and for all.


The pav is believed to have been named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who became the first ballerina to tour around the world (National Library of Australia, 2017). During her tours of Australia & New Zealand in 1926 and 1929, a dish was created and named in her honour in both countries. This was actually quite common for the ballerina; during her tour of America, a "pavlova ice cream" was named after her, so too was the frog's legs' à la pavlova' dish in France (Griffiths, 2017). To make matters more confusing, there exist some 150 recipes for similar dishes before the 1920s in both countries that resemble the modern recipe but lack the 'pavlova' name. But so too are their recipes for a 'pavlova dessert' before her tours that do not resemble the pav we all know and love (Griffiths, 2017).

The claim put forward by New Zealand is that during the 1929 tour, a Wellington Hotel chef was inspired by Anna's tutu and created a 'billowing dessert' featuring a meringue, a marshmallow interior, cream, and slices of kiwi fruit (Leach, 2008). On the other hand, the Australian story is that a crunchy meringue, cream, and passionfruit dessert was created in a Perth hotel in 1926 and was remarked as being "as light as Pavlova" about the ballerina's light-footedness and thus named after her (Griffiths, 2017). This means that around the same time, both an Aussie and a Kiwi made a similar meringue, cream, marshmallow, and fruit dessert, and both named it after Anna Pavlova. Well, that sure is convenient.

Unfortunately, the tale becomes even more confusing because researchers Dr Andrew Paul Wood and Annabelle Utrechthave discovered that a similar-looking dessert called Spanische Windtorte was eaten by the Austrian royal family in the 18th century (Eleven, 2015). Similarly, German "foam cakes" were brought to the US by migrants from the 1800s onwards that resemble the Austrian royal treat. More confusing is that following the invention of the hand-cranked egg beater in the late 1800s, American households began experimenting with meringue and egg-based desserts influenced by the imported delicacy (Griffiths, 2017). It is believed that such meringue and egg-based desserts were then brought to Australia and New Zealand by American manufacturers in the early 1900s (Leach, 2010).


So does this mean our beloved pav doesn't belong to either Australia or New Zealand? Well, perhaps not. The thing that makes our Pavlova's so unique to the American, German, or Austrian variations is that both Aussies and Kiwis have made it our own. In fact, one might say that the Pavlova found in Australia is different from the typical Kiwi pavlova. My personal favourite variation of the Aussie pav is a crunchy meringue exterior, topped with strawberries and blueberries. However, it will not be surprising to hear that many pavs in New Zealand have a less crunchy meringue and are often topped with kiwi fruits (Griffiths, 2017). But if they are different, then why all the controversy?

The best way to demonstrate this is to explain what I think Pavlova represents. When I think about this amazing dish, I am drawn to memories of Christmas lunch, having spent the morning swimming at the beach to escape the sweltering 40-degree heat, only to enjoy a seafood Christmas lunch and kicking the footy with my cousins. If there is any pav left the next day, I will cut off a slice just in time to watch Australia take on New Zealand during the Boxing Day Test Cricket Match (and hopefully winning). At the same time, I dip my feet in the icy waters of an esky/chilly bin. This is an experience that only Australians and New Zealanders share. That is why I think we are so passionate about the pav. It reminds us of the happiest time of the year made unique by celebrating our national past times.

Before moving to New Zealand, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and worked at the Regional Centre of a multinational FMCG. Once during a potluck dinner party, an Indonesian & a Malaysian colleague brought satay, claiming that satay originated from their country. Sticky debate ensued. That was until our Thai host finally chipped in and calmly spoke in her gentle Thai manner, "It doesn't matter where satay is from, what matters is satay in Thailand is the best, cause we've been perfecting it" Needless to say, this replaced all arguments with laughter.

Not only did her comment end the debate (which was a good thing since we all know that less time arguing means more time eating and drinking Chang), but it also made a good point: Progression and perfection matter as much as, if not more than history.

When it comes to our beloved Pavlova, perfection comes in different versions. As Daniel pointed out, Aussies love their meringue crunchier than Kiwis do, favourite toppings differ too. However, I believe both sides of the Tasman agree that there are 3 building blocks of a great Pavlova.

1. Texture

The secret of a chewy-crisp Pavlova lies in the meringue base. There are 3 different ways of making meringue, and alas, none of these is the Australian or the NZ way. They are French, Italian and Swiss methods.

The French method is the most basic. Egg whites are beaten until soft peaks before adding sugar until the mixture reaches full volume.

Swiss meringue is whisked over a bain-marie to warm the egg whites and then whisked steadily until it cools. This forms a dense, glossy marshmallow-like meringue which is more stable than the French meringue.The Italian method involves adding hot sugar syrup to beaten egg whites. Resulting in the most stable form of meringue to further improve stability and create a marshmallowy centre that is a signature of a great pav, corn starch and vinegar are often added to the mix.

2. Flavour Balance

Having built the right foundation next comes the sweetened whipped cream that gives the pav a smooth and rich body. However, combining sweet meringue and rich cream alone is enough to make a great dessert. The sweetness from the meringue and the richness from the whipped cream call for a third act to create the perfect flavour balance that all great chefs, domestic and professional alike, strive for. Here's where the fruit topping came into the picture. Apart from giving freshness to the dessert, acidic fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, and passionfruit can cut the fattiness from the rich cream and round the flavour of the Pavlova, making it the perfect dessert that we cherish.

3. Visual

The last building block of a great Pav comes in the maker's creativity in putting together fruit topping to make the pav as visually stunning as it is delicious. As the old adage says, "We first eat with our eyes." Given summer berries are in season during Christmas in the southern hemisphere, not surprisingly, they become the most favourite fruit topping. And since Pavlova is closely associated with Christmas, many Kiwis love to add Kiwi fruit together with the berries to create the festive red & green colours that signal Christmas. Bringing the dessert even closer to the heart.

Perfection is not static; it keeps on progressing. And as history has shown, progress happens faster and better with collaboration. The same is true with the great Pavlova. Perhaps it's time to make Pavlova global. It is a cosmopolitan dessert that everyone can identify with, adding progression to this awesome dessert using their skills, knowledge, and wisdom.


As a result, we say it makes no difference who made the pav or who has the better pav. All of our childish squabbles are meaningless as long as we can both share this sweet slice of heaven. Don't let the pav divide us. Let it bring us together in our appreciation for the rich flavor that those Americans, Germans, and Austrians foolishly abandoned. So, Merry Christmas to all my ANZACs. This Christmas, enjoy your Pavlova; it's our gift to each other!


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