Libby Willis’ Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pavlova

published Jun 1, 2021
Pride Bakeshop
Pavlova

The decorations are endless here: Traditional berries, seasonal fruit, fresh flowers, sprinkles, sparkly sugar, candles, toasted nuts — the world is your oyster.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook1 hour 45 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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pavlova on table with pin stripe tablecloth
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley; Prop Styling: Stephanie De Luca

This recipe is part of our Pride Bakeshop package, featuring five of our favorite queer bakers and the celebratory dessert that’s bringing them joy right now. Check out all the amazing treats here.

Libby Willis is the chef/co-owner of the late MeMe’s Diner and the soon-to-open KIT. The Kitchn recently talked with her about the politics of Pride and why pavlova is her ideal way to end a dinner party.

So much of Pride is about coming together with your community, and obviously that wasn’t possible in 2020 with the pandemic. What was Pride like for you last year?
For Pride last year I organized the Totes Gay tote bags in collaboration with other queer chefs and business owners, which centered queer people instead of businesses profiting off of a holiday. So Pride last year was definitely different, but it also helped me focus on the politics of the celebration again. It was also the summer of many Black Lives Matter protests, and the intersectionality of Pride and the BLM movement was something I thought of constantly. These protests were also the only place we got to gather. This year we can do both. There’s still a lot of protesting to be done, but we now can gather in small groups, thanks to the vaccine.

It sounds like even though last year was obviously horrible, not being able to gather for Pride also let you connect with it on a different level.
Exactly. I mean, Pride was a protest! Last year was a clear representation of how far away we’ve gotten from what Pride celebrations can be. You can protest something and still celebrate each other. Celebrating with food and dessert — they can coexist.

That’s a perfect segue into talking about your choose-your-own-adventure pavlova recipe for Pride this year. Tell me why it brings you joy right now.
Pavlova is endlessly adaptable because the base is so neutral and delicious. It’s a place to really get creative. You can make small ones, individual ones, and even sheet pan-sized pavlovas. You can also add loads of different herbs and spices to the meringue (as long as they don’t add too much extra moisture). For toppings, you can use seasonal fruit, fresh flowers, sprinkles, sparkly sugar, candles, toasted nuts — the world is your oyster. It can also easily be made gluten- and dairy-free. And as a savory chef, I also love that it’s never too heavy for the end of a meal. It’s creamy, crunchy, and fruity: I could go on! 

And what makes it perfect for Pride this year?
Pavlovas are my ideal dinner-party dessert because they’re best eaten the first day you make them, which means you want to have friends around to share them with. Pavlovas are also so bright and punchy, and we all deserve a refreshing surprise after a very, very hard year. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley; Prop Styling: Stephanie De Luca

Is there anything our readers need to know about this dessert before making it?
The only true guidelines for customizing your pavlova are paying attention to the seasons and choosing your toppings accordingly. I typically have both a creamy element to balance the crunch of the meringue, and a tart element to balance it’s sweetness. Here are some combos that I love.

  • Poppyseed pavlova with citrus curd, whipped cream, fresh raspberries, and candied citrus peel
  • Cardamom pavlova with coconut cream, passion fruit, kiwi, mango, sesame, and lime (this is what I’m making for Pride specifically, this year)
  • Sweet potato and apple cider caramel pavlova with pecan streusel and sour cream whipped cream

Pavlova

The decorations are endless here: Traditional berries, seasonal fruit, fresh flowers, sprinkles, sparkly sugar, candles, toasted nuts — the world is your oyster.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 45 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5

    large egg whites

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons

    cold water

  • 1 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar, or 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cardamom (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon

    cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon

    distilled white, white wine, apple cider, or rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • Topping options: whipped regular or coconut cream (see Recipe Notes), fresh fruit, lemon curd, candied citrus peel, toasted nuts, edible flowers, caramel sauce, finely grated zest of 1 medium lime, fresh passion fruit pulp and seeds, toasted sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, flaky salt, and/or small-diced mango or kiwi

Instructions

  1. Place 5 large egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer) and let sit until room temperature.

  2. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 275°F. Draw a 6-inch round on a sheet of parchment paper. Flip the parchment and place on a rimmed baking sheet - make sure you can still see the round, you may need to trace again or use a dark marker.

  3. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the egg whites. Beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until medium-stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in 3 tablespoons cold water. Slow pour in 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar or 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cardamom if using and beat until combined. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form and the sugar is dissolved, 7 to 8 minutes.

  4. Stop the mixer. Add 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Gently fold in with a rubber spatula by hand until just combined.

  5. Transfer the meringue onto the circle on the parchment, mounding it and piling it high. Use a spatula to smooth the meringue into your desired shape. I like to build up the sides and leave a bit of a well in the center to pile toppings. Any shape and thickness is possible here though.

  6. Bake until the meringue starts to turn a very pale tan color, about 1 hour. Reduce the heat to 250°F and continue to bake until the pavlova feels firm to the touch and dry on top, about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the meringue sit in the cooling oven until completely cooled, at least 1 hour.

  7. When you are ready to serve, transfer the baked meringue to a serving plate and top with cream, fresh fruit, and other desired toppings. Serve immediately!

Recipe Notes

Using granulated sugar: If unavailable you can make by processing granulated sugar in a food processor until very fine. If that is not possible, use granulated sugar and be sure to beat until firm peaks and the sugar is dissolved. You can tell by rubbing the meringue between your fingers feeling for smoothness, without lots of gritty sugar still remaining.

Whipped coconut cream: To make whipped coconut cream, whisk 1 cup coconut yogurt and 2 cups cold heavy cream together until medium peaks form. Beat in a little powdered sugar to taste if using unsweetened coconut yogurt.