Truth time: I seriously love meringue. I could skip ice cream and eat a bowl of the stuff (if that was, you know, socially acceptable). But I love it most for its adaptability. It can form the lofty base of a delicate cake, it can be the soft beginnings of a rich buttercream, or it can be baked all on its own to crisp, crunchy, sugary perfection. I love to make pavlovas as a replacement for pie at times, because nearly everyone can eat them (even those avoiding gluten), and they’re an amazing showcase for fresh summer fruit.
For a recent party of mine, I thought about how best to make a pavlova to serve a crowd. I landed on a baking-sheet sized slab of meringue, served right on the tray. Was it a meringue-crusted slab pie? Was it a pavlova? It was clearly a slablova, and it was awesome: easy, fresh, colorful, and totally delicious. Here’s how you can make your own.
Start with a clean bowl and clean tools.
You wouldn’t want to throw yourself off before you even begin. Remember, fat is the worst enemy of whipping egg whites. Any fat or grease clinging to the surface of the mixing bowl or whip can prevent the egg whites from whipping up. Same goes for separating your eggs—there can’t be a speck of yolk in with your whites! Take care separating your eggs, and wipe out your mixing bowl with a little bit of distilled white vinegar before beginning.
Prep yourself to act fast.
Once you start whipping, everything happens pretty fast and you want to work quickly (a little bit of volume is lost in the foam with every passing minute). Make sure your oven is preheated and your baking sheet is ready to go.
Don’t skip the cream of tartar.
Meringue is made by whipping egg whites with sugar, but a few extra ingredients will help ensure success. Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is an odorless white powder that acts as an acidic compound. It lowers the pH of the albumen in the egg whites and introduces low levels of hydrogen into the mixture, making them more prone to denaturing. It prevents proteins from bonding as whip egg whites—you do not want bonds forming between the egg whites' protein molecules. If chemical bonds form between these molecules, it can force the water (naturally present inside the egg whites) out of the aerated bubbles, making your meringue weepy, unable to form its trademark stiff peaks.
Room temperature is the best temperature.
Egg whites whip up better and faster at room temperature, because then, their protein bonds can break down (and consequently, whip up) more easily.
Start on low, and gradually increase speed
This breaks up the proteins in the eggs and starts to create the foam. Once the mixture appears foamy, raise the speed to medium and begin to add the sugar gently in a slow stream. (Don’t dump it all in at once—this will crush the base of the beautiful foam you’ve made.) Once the sugar is added, raise the mixer speed to high and continue to whip until the egg whites have reached full volume and form stiff peaks. How do you know what stiff peak is? Here’s a refresher: Soft peak meringue has very little structure and falls over completely into a soft mass. The medium peak meringue is shinier and whiter, but still soft looking. The stiff meringue holds a peak straight up and down and is bright white and very shiny. This meringue should be smooth and easily spreadable. If it looks clumpy or grainy, it has been overwhipped. If adding any flavoring to your meringue (like the vanilla extract in my recipe), add it right at the end of whipping, and mix just to combine.
Shape the slablova.
Transfer the meringue to the prepared baking sheet, and use an offset spatula to spread into an even layer, almost to the edges of the pan. I like to make the texture of the meringue swirly to leave lots of peaks and valleys, giving some crunchy bits and some chewy bits in the finished pavlova.
Crisp it real good.
Meringue isn’t “baked” so much as it is “dried”. The longer you allow the pavlova shell to dry, the more stable and less fragile it will be. I start by preheating my oven about 50 degrees hotter than the actual baking temperature (275° F, from 225° F). I lower the temperature as soon as I place the meringue inside, and keep it at 225° F for the remainder of baking. I recommend baking the pavlova for about 2 hours at 225° F, then turning the oven off and leaving the pavlova inside until it is completely cool, 3-4 hours more. In humid months, it may need to be dried longer—perhaps up to overnight in an oven with a pilot light, to make sure it’s fully dry. The pavlova may get a little bit of color, but ideally, it should be nice and white, even when it’s fully baked.
Topping and Finishing
I opted for a whipped cream made slightly tangy by sour cream, and a layer of halved cherries. But the sky is the limit—your meringue shell is a crispy, sweet, and totally blank canvas, and top it with pretty much anything your heart desires!
- 9 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- 1 1/4 pounds cherries, pitted and halved
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- zest of 1 lemon, plus more for garnish