Passionate Pavlovas:

National Desserts from A to Z


From the Caesar salad to Fettucini Alfredo, we're surrounded by dishes named for famous figures in history. But how many can claim to be the national dessert of not one, but two countries? This week, we're taking a look at the origins and history of the Pavlova, named for one of the world's first ballerina superstars. Famous for making the Russian ballet popular on the international stage, Anna Pavlova inspired devoted fans from Argentina to India to Japan. But how did her name end up attached to a meringue-based dessert? And why are New Zealand and Australia still fighting over who invented it ? We'll talk to Australia's Dr. Diana Jeske and New Zealand's Professor Helen Leach, author of "The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History" as they discuss their respective country's claim to this classic dessert. Learn the fascinating twists and turns this national dessert has taken in the last 100 years and what the Pavlova of the future might look like! 

Written and produced by Laura Carlson

Technical Direction by Mike Portt

Editing Assistance by Lynne Provencher

Special Guests including:

Dr. Diana Jeske of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia 

Dr. Helen Leach, emeritus professor at the University of Otago and author of The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History, along with a wealth of articles and books on the history of recipes and cooking in New Zealand 



Anna Pavlova (1881-1931): The Woman Who Inspired Meringue

Excerpts from the 1935 documentary film 'The Immortal Swan" about the international career of Anna Pavlova, directed by Edward Nakhimoff, including a rare look at Anna at her London home feeding her beloved swans. 


Beyond meringue, Anna Pavlova's overwhelming impact on international ballet is hard to fathom. Famous for introducing the world to Russian technique and choreography, she inspired a generation of dancers to pursue a career in ballet.


The Evolution of the Pavlova:

From Jello to Chickpeas

The earliest known recipe known as a Pavlova appears to date from a 1926 recipe collection produced by the Davis Gelatine Corporation. Founded in Australia in 1917, the company quickly went on to dominate the home gelatine market in both New Zealand and Australia. This 1926 recipe collection, known as Dainty Davis Dishes, includes the first-ever published recipe for a dessert named after the famous ballerina who had toured the two countries that same year. Miles away from the meringue, cream, and fruit that the Pavlova would be associated with, this early recipe is an example of a "ribbon jelly", featuring multiple layers of different flavors of gelatine, including one milk layer!

original pavlova image.jpg
Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Australia. Circa 1890s. 

Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Australia. Circa 1890s. 

Herbert Sachse: The Inventor of the Meringue Pavlova?

Not so fast!

Even after Anna Pavlova's sudden death in 1931 at the age of 49, her international fanbase continued to celebrate her dancing career for decades afterwards. The subject of one of the first documentary films, The Immortal Swan, in 1935, that same year an Australian chef working at the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Australia invented an airy dessert to commemorate the famous dancer. Using meringue and whipped cream, Herbert Sachse produced the dessert to hotel guests with the tag line that it was "as light as Pavlova herself". 

But was Sachse the first to put meringue and Pavlova together? As Helen Leach's work has demonstrated, meringue-based Pavlova recipes were already in print over in New Zealand by 1929, a full six years before Sachse's creation. Despite accusations of dessert theft, Sachse's Pavlova recipe appears to be unique- distinct from any of the contemporary published New Zealand creations. Great minds just must think alike!

The Modern Pavlova?

Since the earliest recipes for Pavlovas in the late 1920s, the dessert has changed over the years to reflect food trends and values. When eggs were pricey in the mid-1950s, one egg Pavlovas became popular. There have been low-sugar Pavlovas (safe for diabetics), Pavlova rolls, even chocolate Pavlovas! As the dessert reached iconic status as the go-to holiday treat in both Australia and New Zealand, some companies were keen to make the delicious dessert more appealing for amateur bakers. In the 1980s, the introduction of "Pavlova Magic" reduced the work load by selling pre-mixed dehydrated egg whites, sugar, cornstarch in a plastic egg. 

The interior of our vegan meringue

The interior of our vegan meringue

The Wave of the Future: The Vegan Pavlova?

Although egg whites may be the foundation of any classic meringue, many cooks have been searching for alternate ingredients to make a vegan-friendly version of the iconic Pavlova. The search may now be over, thanks to the soaring popularity of aquafaba (also know as the liquid found in a can of chickpeas). When a software engineer in Indiana discovered the liquid behaved similarly to egg whites when whipped or baked, a new vegan ingredient was born! Since then, aquafaba has been used as an egg white replacement in a number of recipes, however, we wanted to test whether chickpea juice could really replace the egg white in a classic Pavlova. Using a recipe from the vegan food blog, Pickles and Honey (find the recipe we used here), we steeled our will to testing and tasting a chickpea dessert.

And who would have thought? It came out looking and tasting almost exactly the same as a egg white-based meringue!