A Couple of Pavlova Questions

Several readers have written in to ask if the thick meringue layer that forms the base of a pavlova can be made ahead of time. The answer as far as I’m aware is no, not really. Thin, crispy layers of meringue of the kind that go into marjolaine or vacherin can be kept for several days if need be, but in general thicker, softer layers don’t keep as well. Still I think we need an Aussie or a Kiwi to weigh in on this and give us a definitive answer. Little help anyone?

Reader Vicki wants to know if she can use stabilized whipped cream for the filling. She also wants to know what the heck whipped cream stabilization is and how it works. Vicki, the answer to your first question is yes (though some purists might complain). As far the second, I’ll need a little space to answer it. You may or may not know about how whipped cream works, a full explanation for that is here. Basically, whipping creates a layer of free fat molecules which coat air bubbles and keep them from popping.

Stabilization works by reinforcing those air bubbles. The firmness of the fat — and hence the integrity of the bubble coatings — is heavily dependent on temperature. So the longer whipped cream sits at room temperature the softer the coatings get and the more the bubbles begin to pop. The whipped cream starts to sag. Stabilization works not by adding firmness to the fat, but rather to the watery medium that surrounds the fat. Gelatin, for example, adds a firming lattice of protein to the water, keeping the fatty structure upright even as it softens. You get a similar effect with cornstarch (corn flour). Even sugar works as a stabilizer by forming a syrup with the water, creating a more viscous bubble medium with a lower surface tension.

Of all the common stabilizers, gelatin lasts the longest, though in most cases sugar is enough to keep whipped cream aloft for a good hour, provided it’s not too hot outside!

12 thoughts on “A Couple of Pavlova Questions”

  1. Being a kiwi I have made a few pav’s over the years. I often make mine a day ahead and leave it covered in a dry place. I add the cream just before serving.

  2. You can buy pre-made pavlovas in supermarkets in Australia. You just take them home and top them with the cream and fruit. Presumably they are made at least a day or two in advance, because most of them aren’t baked in-store as far as I am aware.

  3. Kiwi here.

    Pav can be made at most two days before, otherwise the sugar starts absorbing moisture from the air, and the outside shell gets a bit soggy. If you’re somewhere where the ambient humidity is very low, you might be able to extend that.
    Definitely add the cream or whatever other topping the day of, preferably just before serving (even leftover christmas lunch pav served for that night’s dessert can become squishy).
    And the so called ‘pavlovas’ in the supermarket are no such thing!

    We’ve always used 5 egg whites, enough sugar added slowly to get the meringue glossy, 1 tbsp cornflour or custard powder and ~2tsp of vinegar. The less you handle it before it goes into the oven, the better, and leave it to cool in the oven after cooking (about 130 for an hour and a half, then just turn the oven off and walk away until it’s cool). We probably use a bit much sugar, certainly you get sugar weeping out (delicious!).

    I shall have to make one when the weather gets a bit nicer. Pav is a summer treat, not really a middle-of-winter one!


    1. The trouble with adding sugar to whipped cream, Kel, is that it adds a revolting sweetness. (As if pavlova isn’t already sickly enough!) Good cream doesn’t need either sugar or flavouring.

  4. Like Bev I regularly make pavlovas a full day ahead and I would say if you are able to keep the pavlova in a really dry cool place/container you could make one two days ahead. Don’t store them in the refrigerator. In my experience making a pavlova on a humid day is fraught with possible failure – which is often an issue for us around Christmas time as it’s summer down here and pavlova is a favourite for that time of year.
    I also try and put the cream on as close to serving as possible – but sometimes that’s not possible. Full cream is the best to use -not the lite varieties. Enjoy the calories I say.

  5. Ive occasionally made a pavlova the day before but it’s alway better the day of. Prepreparing always works better with a thin base rather than a taller one with more gooey insides. Honestly though pavlova rarely lasts long enough in my house to tell.

  6. They DO something to the commercial ones. Don’t know what though. Used to be that bought ones were horrible, just big crunchy meringues; now they can make soft ones but there’s some trick to it – and they are NOT very crisp on the outside. Wouldn’t be surprised if the add gelatin or something.
    I don’t put any cornflour in mine, btw. Just sugar, egg whites, vinegar. That’s how my Mum did it. And like Kel, I don’t measure the sugar, I just keep adding it until it tastes and looks right.

    1. Thanks Browyn. I’m pretty sure I need the starch. I add at least a little to most of my meringues here in Kentucky where the humidity is almost always off the charts. Otherwise I get results like yesterday and worse.

      – Joe

  7. I wonder if they cook the meringue (like you would do with an Italian meringue/Swiss meringue)…certainly our bought ones aren’t the same as a homemade one.
    Lots of kiwi cooks will tell you they’ve never made a pav, because they are “too difficult”…my recipe uses 3 egg whites, a cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of cornflour, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, 1 teaspoon (good) vanilla essence…put all into the bowl of the mixer, turn on and beat for 12 minutes, adding 4 Tablespoons of boiling water (thereby stabilising the mix?) as soon as the mixer starts. Turn out onto baking paper on a tray, making a rough circle, do NOT aim for perfection. Put into oven at 200C for three minutes, then turn the heat off and leave until oven is cool, or overnight.
    I agree, you can keep them for a couple of days, in a dry place. Add cream and fruit as close to serving as possible.

  8. All this is the perfect answer to a question I needed to ask..
    I recently made a pavlova and was so thrilled with the result I want to make a couple for Christmas.
    Storing I didn’t know about, as that huge mountain of a thing I was so proud of got eaten in one sitting 🙂
    SO thought I’d be real bold and try to make two :/ Or maybe 1 and some meringue nests as well.
    I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas with your family and friends 🙂

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