A taste of the real Kiwi pavlova

For almost a century, no real New Zealand feast or happy family celebration would be without the crowning treat – a classic Kiwi pavlova topped with cream, kiwifruit or summer berries.

For almost a century, no real New Zealand feast or happy family celebration would be complete without the crowning treat - a classic Kiwi pavlova topped with cream, kiwifruit or summer berries.

For almost as long, debate has raged between Kiwis and Aussies on the true origin of the meringue-based dessert - though everyone agrees that it was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who visited Downunder in the 1920s.

Finally, it seemed, the debate had been put to rest by an English authority - no less than the Oxford English Dictionary’s online edition which recognised the pavlova as a New Zealand invention.

According to the OED, the first recorded ‘pavlova’ recipe appeared in a New Zealand recipe book in 1927. It’s not exactly end-of-story because that was a jelly-like dessert, but other NZ publications from 1928 and 1929 cited recipes more closely resembling the modern dessert.

Pavlova Paradise

British author, television commentator and politician Austin Mitchell famously dubbed New Zealand as "the half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise" in his best selling commentary on life in New Zealand published in 1972.

While the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ of the 80s and 90s sidelined the pavlova for a bit, nostalgia and the search for ‘real Kiwi cuisine’ have helped create a pavlova revival that keeps it on menus up and down the length of New Zealand.

But, if the pavlova’s origins are no longer in dispute, the debate for where to go for the best ‘pav’ will likely never be put to rest.

Kiwis typically maintain that their own mum, nana or aunty does 'the world’s best pav', but aside from that most Kiwi chefs have grown up cooking pavlovas so there are many New Zealand restaurants and cafés where diners can sample the classic dessert.

Celebrated Kiwi chef Peter Gordon - who has restaurants in Auckland and London - credits his own mum Timmy with making the 'world's best pav' and says he would not mess with her recipe.

Kiwi pavlova places

You’ll never have to go far to find a pavlova in New Zealand, but here are a few suggestions:

  • On Auckland's Viaduct Harbour, leading Auckland restaurant Euro serves a delectable mini pavlova with feijoa sorbet, manuka honey meringue and raspberry shard.
  • Wellington insiders highly rate Floriditas' ‘brown sugar pavlova with yellow kiwifruit, passion fruit and cream. Quirky Floriditas occupies an art deco heritage building in Wellington’s hip must-see shopping and food quarter of Cuba Street.
  • Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, in Christchurch, may take the cake for the most kiwi pavlova. Home of the NZ Conservation Trust kiwi breeding programme, the wildlife reserve raises kiwis as well as many things kiwi including a traditional pavlova with fruit couli, cream and hokey pokey ice cream served at the evening hangi for the Ko Tane Maori cultural experience.

Cowell's Genuine Pavlovas

And, for those who want to do it at home but don’t know how, there are always Cowell's Genuine Pavlovas - New Zealand’s leading branded pavlova, and the first pavlova to be commercially distributed.

A couple of enterprising ex-pat Brits - Ron and Audrey Cowell - founded the original coffee shop in Dunedin in the mid-1960s that has grown into a nationwide business producing and selling pavlovas into supermarkets and boutique food stores throughout New Zealand.

Audrey Cowell started out with an original recipe from New Zealand’s iconic Edmonds Cookbook and, having first learned to cook a pavlova, went on to create an 80cm high marshmallow-filled version that was sold by the slice in the coffee shop.

Pavlova professor

Professor Helen Leach, a culinary anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has compiled a library of cookbooks containing 667 pavlova recipes from more than 300 sources.

Leach’s The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History states that the first Australian pavlova recipe was created in 1935, while an earlier version was penned in 1929 in the rural magazine NZ Dairy Exporter Annual.

Australian website ‘Australian Flavour’ gives the earlier date of 1926, suggesting that Home Cookery for New Zealand, by E Futter, contained a recipe for ‘Meringue with Fruit Filling’. This recipe was similar to today's version of the dessert.

Background: Kiwi pavlova

Pavlova is a meringue dessert, crisp on the outside but light and fluffy inside, and traditionally topped with whipped cream and tropical fruit - especially kiwifruit.

The dessert was created to honour the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, during or just after one of her Australasian tours in the 1920s.

Pavlova is made by beating egg whites (at room temperature) until they are stiff and fluffy, then beating in sugar and a small amount of white vinegar and vanilla.

The dessert is a popular dish in New Zealand and is frequently eaten during celebratory or holiday meals such as Christmas dinner. Commercially made pavlovas are available in supermarkets.