In 1905, prima ballerina Anna Pavlova premiered a solo ballet created especially for her, “The Dying Swan,” which she would dance about 4,000 times before her death in 1931.
“It was a combination of masterful technique with expressiveness,” Michel Fokine, the piece’s choreographer, said of his composition in a 1931 interview for Dance Magazine. Fokine called the groundbreaking work “almost an improvisation.”
It is with the improvised spirit of Pavlova’s performance that I approach my Pavlova (the meringue dessert, not the dancer). Egg whites, sugar, and cream are an ideal blank canvas for almost anything — including the Oreos in my pantry, which have a bitter, chocolatey essence that I love.
Named after the ballerina, the Pavlova is primarily an ethereal pudding (in the British sense of the word). A slice of meringue topped with fresh whipped cream and fruit, the dessert dances between crunchy and chewy, between sweet and relief. Everything in life needs balance, and a classic Pavlova is an example of balance.
If you’ve ever tried a Pavlova at home, you know that the fun of making one comes from how the shape turns out different every time. There is no assigned pan, just the free form of your imagination. Some like to draw a circle on parchment as a guideline. But try this instead: Give in to the wavy, mercury nature of the meringue’s natural movements. Drop it where it falls. After all, it’s not a pie; it’s Pavlova.
What makes a Pavlova especially delightful is the way most of its volume comes from air, which is beaten into the egg whites and sugar until they get thick and voluminous, like Marshmallow Fluff. Dipped into a very loose, amorphous round with peaks and swirls, this snowy mound is baked low and slow until crackling and crispy at the edges. As the meringue cools on the counter, it deflates, creating Pavlova’s typical chewy center.
A standard Pavlova – in New Zealand and Australian traditions – comes with juicy fruit on top. Sweet and sour strawberries, kiwis and passion fruit are all fair game.
But here the meringue leans towards the nostalgic taste of cookies and cream. Oreos not only give that shaky milky filling and bittersweet wafers, but they also keep the center of the meringue moist and fluffy. The Oreo “cream,” combined with the moisture in the egg whites, softens the crunchy, cocoa-dark cookies into gooey chocolate bags.
Fans of the marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal will love this four-ingredient Pavlova, whose flavor is reminiscent of those hearts, stars, and horseshoes. The meringue’s sweetness is offset by a crown of whipped cream — like the milk you drink at the end of a bowl of cereal.