June 5, 2009

Dinky Diy`s Guide to Controversial Pav - Aussies vs. Kiwis

OR, In which Australia turns a twinkle toes into a cake.

Being the outstanding ambassador I am for our proud nation, I was racking my brain to think of cultural oddities and historical anecdotes that may capture the imaginations of the rather unimpressed Russians. Something that might link our two proud nationalities together as brethren, other than a mutual dislike of Hitler.

..And it was then that I remembered Anna.

Internationally celebrated Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1881-1931), toured both Australia in 1926 and again in 1929, which is kind of odd because in these pre-multimedia times, Down Under was a bit of an outpost for all things cosmopolitan and culturally sophisticated back then.

Oh, we knew about the latest trends... just two years after they were hip. A bit like Kazakhstan now.

So, we can only speculate that bookings were coming a bit far and few between for ol`Anna if she was making the long haul to dance for the Perth elite.

As you can imagine, this tour made pretty big news in Oz. She also happened to stop by New Zealand during this tour and it is here that the squabble begins.

"A symphony of silence! So Pavlova has been described," began the report in the West Australian on Tuesday, July 9, 1929. "But who, seeing the famous ballerina for the first time as she stood on the deck... at Fremantle yesterday, could apply the description? It was Babel itself!" The reporter managed to share her cab into Perth... "They are funny, these Australians," she pronounced in the cab.

The sensation Anna whipped up when she soared on air across these Southern stages inspired the light, frothy meringue desert, Pavlova (pav-LOH-vuh), that both countries controversially claim as their national dish.

The chef of a hotel in Wellington, NZ was reportedly so taken by Pavola`s costume, draped in green silk cabbage roses, that he went into a creative frenzy with fruit (legend has it he was a bit of a Kiwi-fruit himself, but that`s another story.) He crafted the shape with a meringue case, the netting of her tutu was suggested by whipped cream and he turned to sliced kiwifruit, then known as Chinese gooseberries, for the roses.

In 1934 at The Esplanade Hotel in Perth, the licensee Mrs. Elizabeth Paxton was doing a roaring trade with her popular afternoon teas. She had asked her chef, Bert Sachse, to devise a special desert for these highly sought after occasions, that might titillate the gossipy tea drinkers. After a month of experimentation, Sachse presented the now familiar pavlova recipe which, according to local legend, was so named by the hotel manager after remarking, "It is as light as Pavlova".

Bert Sachse said in a magazine interview in 1973 that he was trying to improve the Meringue Cake, a prize-winning recipe from the "Women's Mirror" edition of April 2, 1935. The recipe was contributed by "Rewa"of Rongotai, NZ... hmm.

"In the "Good Food Guide" to British Isles restaurants in 1977 referred to the pavlova as the Kiwi`s but changed the entry the next year to say it was Aussie. Hilary Fawcett, who compiled the glossary, wrote about the change: "There does seem to be some controversy as to whether the wretched thing originated in NZ or Australia and I was reduced to doing a straw-vote count."

"It is possible, if ungenerous, to deride the pavlova for culinary innocence. It was adopted from New Zealand. Yet Herbert Sachse made a genuine, crystallising contribution. The pavlova served its original purpose admirably. It then caught the popular imagination. Distilling the Australian concept of sweet living, it is the single great discovery thus far of our cooking."

The Russians looked at me blankly. Maybe Anna was right, we Australians are funny ones, honouring a ballerina with a meringue cake. But then, it has secured her place in our folkloric traditions far better than her Dying Swan managed.

Then suddenly, Mrs. Russian, through laboured translations, remembered childhood summers at her grandmother`s dacha, where she would be fed homemade bizet or meringues. She rushed (Why are you Rush`n? Bahahahahahahahahahahahahha, what`s that you say? A Dad joke? Carefacter: 0) into the kitchen and started baking.

Turns out the Russians call meringue bizet after French composer Georges, the guy who wrote the opera Carmen. I wonder what he did for the Russians that made them think light and frothy?

Mini Bloody Awesome Pav`sBite Sized Deliciousness


  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
  • 300ml thickened cream, whipped
  • fresh strawberries, kiwi fruit, bananas sliced for topping*
  • 2 passionfruit, pulped


  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Place egg whites into a clean bowl. Beat with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add caster sugar, beating well between each addition. Beat until mixture is thick and glossy - this will take at least 5 minutes.
  2. Spoon heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays. Flatten meringue into a disc. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely in the oven with the door ajar.
  3. Top meringue with whipped cream and a teaspoon or two of passionfruit pulp. Decorate with fruit and serve.

*Toppings in a recipe like this beg to be experimented with. I have had mocha, rum cream with forest berries and chopped pistachios, I have seen grated chocolate sprinkled over the lot, more tropical combos of mango, pineapple along with the regular strawberry/kiwi mix. Go crazy with this one, you would be hard pressed to get it really wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post - very informative!
    I also love it coz being an Aussie girl at heart Pav is my favourite desert! I will be using your recipe to cook up some mini pavs over the weekend!