How do you transport pavlova? And do you pre-assemble it or not?
February 14, 2011 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I need advice from experienced bakers, pavlova makers, or Kiwis/Aussies. How do you transport a pavlova? And do you pre-assemble it or not? I'm making a pavlova for a birthday dinner & I'm concerned about cracking & sogginess. Help!

How do people travel with these things? (I am an experienced pav maker, I like my recipe, that's not what this question is about.) I usually make it & serve it at home, but due to dinner birthday plans out of my control, I'm bringing it to the restaurant. I'm making it since the birthday girl had it at my house at Christmas and loved it.

Question 1: This is to serve 10-11 people. How big do I make it? I'd like to make my 8-egg pavlova which is about 13" in diameter but cake carriers are at max 12.5" inside. My 6 egg pavlova is smaller, 11-12" but will that feed enough people? The birthday girl won't get very much it seems. Any bright ideas on some kind of case for transporting a 13" diameter dessert?

Question 2: I'm worried about the pavlova degrading from my house to then the ride on the subway, maybe cracking a lot, then sitting in a fridge at the restaurant getting soggy. It will probably be 2 hours from assembly at home to serving at the restaurant. I could keep the meringue base, cream top, and fruit all separate and just assemble it at the restaurant but that seems sketchy (will they have space for me to do that, will it just be a giant mess). Won't it be sliding all around inside and fall apart? Do I buffer it with some kind of soft tissue paper or something else?

Thank you!
posted by scazza to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In terms of the size of cake carriers, have you considered making a layered pav, to gain the volume in height?

Pavlova base doesn't need to be kept cool, but once it is assembled your margin for consumption is small (especially if you have acidic fruit like kiwis or pineapple on it), so I'd see if you can wrangle some assembly space with the restaurant if possible.

Cracking is inevitable, but you could also cover the sides in cream and fruit as well to hide it.
posted by Paragon at 4:11 PM on February 14, 2011

As you say, don't put on the cream or fruit until you get there. I think you'll have to ask the restaurant about this, but unless the pav is a surprise, you COULD assemble it at the table. You don't need much space just to spatula some (pre-) whipped cream on top and put some berries on.

Cracking is normal. Serious cracks can be cemented back together with cream.
posted by lollusc at 4:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

As for transporting it, maybe you could beg a large cardboard cake box off a cake shop or bakery? Offer to give them money for it, but they might just give it to you for free.
posted by lollusc at 4:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I made pavlovas for a bbq not that long ago. I assembled them before I went to the party and kept them in the fridge - all up it was about 5 hours between assembling them and serving them, and they didn't go soggy at all! I had a car to transport them in, but I just made two smaller ones that would fit into cake boxes and put them on the back seat and they were fine. That part of my answer addresses the storage issue, but since you are going on the subway, I would recommend the next strategy (based on experience).

I once transported a pavlova in a stiff cardboard box by holding it under my arm on a 20 minute bicycle ride. It cracked a little but not much! I brought with me all the pre-cut fruit to go on top of it (I went minimalistic to assist transport - just strawberries, blueberries and passionfruit) in one tupperware container, and a mix of double-cream and marscapone whipped until it was stiff in another container. I then assembled it at the party. If you did this (with two small pavs), then I am sure that the restaurant would let you do the little bit of prep work required to put them together - at that stage it would just be spreading the cream and sprinkling the fruit!

My experience has been that things often travel better than you think: I once transported two meringue pies - each in a canvas bag hanging from my handlebars - on my push bike and the little bit of damage they received was easily disguised with a dusting of icing sugar!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 4:17 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the great info everyone! Very thankful for the help; I wasn't sure I'd get any answers on this one.

When I say cracking I mean serious crumbling if it were sliding around banging against the sides, turning into crumbs. I know that reasonable cracking is normal. As for a bakery cake box, I looked into that, they're not made large enough and a sheet cake box is not tall enough.

It sounds like table assembly is the best bet, but if I have to assemble it beforehand it won't be destroyed. If I'm transporting un-assembled then the larger base could be moved easier.

I'd still love to hear if anyone has stories about how say, their moms always did it for future reference.
posted by scazza at 4:49 PM on February 14, 2011

As far as the serving size goes, I'd say a 12" pav would be fine for 10-11 people. Make sure the birthday girl gets served first, but I find that no one ever eats as much pavlova as I would (or as I think they would). And it doesn't really keep...

It wouldn't be as pretty but I might try to find a sheet pan that has a tall plastic cover that goes over it, and make two smaller bases on the sheet pan, then assemble when you get there.

To keep it from banging against the sides, you can bake it directly in a pie plate or on a cardboard cake round, and it'll stick to that. (I've done the pie plate trick a few times successfully.)

Nom. Pav.
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011

I've made and decorated my Pav the morning of and once even the night before. I never had a problem with sog and side cracking is par for the course anyway, so your two hours will be plenty fine. This won't work for acidic or enzyme-y fruit like kiwifruit (they'll make the cream break down), but is just fine for sliced strawberries or whole blackberries, for example.

Instead of making it wider I just pile it higher as the egg count gets bigger. I'd use seven of eight eggs for 11 people, but I wouldn't spread it sideways any more than I would for a six egg pav. Just plop more on top. So that might help with your size issues (although it will spread a bit more as it cooks so will be a bit bigger than the six egg one). My recipe makes a really stiff batter and a fairly solid end product (nice crisp shell, solid marshmallowy stuff inside), which probably helps.

The main thing is to keep it cool because warm cream isn't a good idea from a food safety point of view. How long will your subway ride be? Maybe you can put ice packs or dry ice in if it's likely to get very warm (like a lining of ice packs under the plate). But if it's not too long a trip (which I'm guessing based on the two hours estimate) just having it cold to start with then straight into the fridge is OK. You might get some weeping from the pav itself, but that's never made mine less palatable (and a good recipe should minimise that).

I've never used any kind of box or cake carrier because I'm worried about the same things as you, sliding around and stuff. Instead I put it on a square serving platter (mine are either pottery or glass, but a chopping board would be fine) then just gladwrap it down. Yeah the top gets a bit flattened but I don't do fancy swirls or anything anyway, and having the fruit pressed into the cream a little isn't a problem. Don't press it really hard, just enough to make sure it's stuck in place. It's kind of unwieldy to carry and will probably use both your hands most of the time, but keeps everything in one unit so it can be tipped and jogged without trouble. You could sit it flat in a bag then hold the handles carefully, although it might be a bit big. I like a serving plater more than a plate or board because it has slightly raised edges that the wrap goes over, which puts less pressure on the sides of the pav, and it looks great immediately after removing the covering. I've transported pavlovas several times this way and it's always been fine, although I've never tried public transport. I see no reason to assemble anything after you get there, I've certainly never bothered.

Lastly, another method I've used to get around this problem is to make a bunch of single serve pavlovas. Bigger than a meringue, like maybe two heaped tablespoons per pav, so they still develop the marshmallowy middle. I just use the same recipe and cooking time etc. They can go in a cookie tin or plastic container then be served with cream and berries on the side. It's not as cake-like as having a full pav so probably not what you want, but I figured I'd mention it!
posted by shelleycat at 5:19 PM on February 14, 2011

Oh, the sitting in the bag thing is after being glad wrapped down by the way, not instead of. I've done it with cakes just fine but don't know how it would work for this.
posted by shelleycat at 5:23 PM on February 14, 2011

From experience, I don't think it matters if the box isn't tall enough. You can gladwrap over the top carefully, and it's the hardish sides and bottom that provide sufficient support to carry the pav around.

But I like the idea above of making two smaller ones (and then you can stack them if you like).

I don't think you want my mum's solution. The two times she tried to transport pavlovas, she dropped them and ended up with a pile of crushed meringue. Fortunately, Eton Mess is still quite palatable.
posted by lollusc at 5:25 PM on February 14, 2011

Shelleycat -- thanks!! My circle size for both an 8 egg and 6 egg are the same (10"), so I do the same thing and pile high. It just spreads farther with the increased volume/mass; it's still very tall. So even if I reduced the circle size I think it would still spread to be the same size. Yes mine is extremely stiff from the 10 minutes in the mixer (key! I set a timer). The cream will be fine and it's going to be lemon cream anyway (cream + curd); it's going from fridge to fridge. Thanks for the platter/wrap idea, though I'll still assemble it there to be safe.

As for the mini-pavs I developed my pav recipe over years of trial and error, trying many different recipes, so I'm a totally anal about the final product. I found when I made minis it was too hard to make them a standard size so some were bad and some were fine. So until I can find a way to standardize them, I'm not a fan of minis. (That is if I understood your last paragraph correctly, "Bigger than a meringue, like maybe two heaped tablespoons per pav, so they still develop the marshmallowy middle" I didn't really understand.)
posted by scazza at 5:37 PM on February 14, 2011

This is quasi hypothetical, because I've never done it, but..

I've seen pavlova shells sold in boxes in supermarkets. The inner packaging is a reasonably thick card sheet for the pavlova to sit on. Then there's usually also a cardboard ring - thin card, but rigid enough to stop lateral twisting - that appears to be rolled out around the diameter of the pav and then just taped together at the end.

Something like that might sort a lot of your cracking problems.

If you wanted it to not slide around inside a larger box, pack between the cardboard ring and the inner sides of the larger box with crumpled tissue or crepe paper.
posted by Ahab at 6:03 PM on February 14, 2011

Nigella Lawson has a good method for making consistent mini pavlovas: She advocates tracing around a pint glass to make the circles the same size.
posted by apparently at 6:38 PM on February 14, 2011

Here's a photo of my mini pavs, you can see I'm not at all worried about the size and shape. They all work just fine by any measure I can think of (texture rules, taste is awesome, etc). Some have more marshmallow in the middle and some have less, but that's part of the fun. I tried to find a photo of a really big pavlova but apparently I've never photographed the ones I take places.

I actually think that assembling stuff when you're there at a restaurant will be troublesome. Taking food to a place that sells food is already walking a fine line, expecting to do food prep as well is pushing it too far. At the very least be prepared to do it at the table in front of everyone and make sure you take everything you may need. You might be able to get them to do it for you, for a fee, but it can turn into a surprisingly large fee depending on the place.

If it is being assmebled when you're there then you don't need to worry about gladwrap or anything fancy, just put the base in a large enough tupperware container and pack with crumpled paper towels. It should be dry and stiff enough around the edges that it won't collapse or fall apart, and the padding will stop it getting beaten up (assuming you carry it carefully). Make sure it's totally cold of course so it doesn't sweat, but that should be part of the recipe anyway. If it is so soft that this won't work then you're clearly baking a totally different beast than I am!

I can't give you advice on how my Mums been doing it for years because she's the first to agree my pavlova kicks her pavlova's arse *grin*. But I have transported mine plenty of times pre-assembled just fine, and there's no way I'd muck around putting stuff together at the last minute.
posted by shelleycat at 7:28 PM on February 14, 2011

i just made a pavlova this week - and took it on the subway! it cracked SO much (because i made it too late - no time to cool before transferring and taking it on a wild ride in -25 degree weather) but it didn't matter in the least. once i added the whipped cream and fruit on top (just before serving), you couldn't see the cracks at all and you couldn't, um, taste them either. and it served out beautifully (no crumbles at all).

the way i transported it was a bit DIY - i used a huuuge frypan and set it in there, then removed the handle (it screwed off) then covered it with a tea towel, and put it in a cloth bag. it worked totally well, except that i had a frypan on my hands. the box idea sounds much more reasonable. i whipped the cream at the party, but you could do it ahead of time and add your chopped fruit with very little space needed.

have fun!
posted by andreapandrea at 7:47 PM on February 14, 2011

Well for sogginess - in pastry school we were taught to put a thin slice of genoise, the same diametre as the inside of the pavlova, between the cream and the baked meringue. The genoise absorbs the extra moisture from the cream, and the meringue stays crisp.
posted by meringue at 8:36 PM on February 14, 2011

I can't offer advice, but experience. A friend made pav for Australia day, which we celebrated at the beach here in LA. It was 75F, and she brought it in a cake carrier, with the cream already on top, but the fruit was kept separate. It sat in the shade for about two hours, then when we were ready to eat she dropped the fruit on top. The cream had definitely melted, but it didn't matter at all, once you cut it into portions with fruit on top, no-one really notices. It was fantastic!
posted by Joh at 10:51 PM on February 14, 2011

apparently — Nigella's recipe is the one I used. A tracing doesn't guarantee consistent, accurate measurement, it's just a shape.

shelleycat — when I made them some were awesome and some were completely sticky inside unacceptable. If there were a way to measure them, that would help, but then you'd have to trial and error to find the right measurement, and I'm not into minis enough for that. I like the tall marshmallow inside of a big pav.
- There's a $10 charge for outside food, so no fine line, they're charging for it as if they were actually giving us food. Plenty of restaurants do table service; it's dramatic. Have you ever had table-side guacamole? Or dover sole? This place is likely to be empty anyway but for us. Wednesday night. There's no way I would like them to do it for me. It's just dumping cream on top and fruit on top. No problem.
- Tupperware containers don't come large enough, that's the point of this post, so I'm saran wrapping it to my platter which I'll serve it on.
- Thanks for your extensive answers (good to have a real kiwi helping out! Wonderful MeFi. I miss New Zealand)! This being NYC, I'd rather not worry about it getting jostled around pre-assembled, then whether the restaurant has a big enough space left in their fridge. So it's easier to have them just chill the cream & fruit, and leave out the large base.

andreapandrea — Good to hear an actual subway experience!

meringue — OOOOO! Do you make the genoise? Or buy it?

Thanks again everyone, I had no idea this question would get so many responses! So many pavlova enthusiasts out there is a good thing!
posted by scazza at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2011

It sounds like it's going to work out so yay! I didn't realise you're in the Northern hemisphere (stupid assumption I know), so being hot on the trip clearly isn't going to be a problem either, heh. If you were here I could recommend a brand of not-terribly expensive containers that come in a really large size, but the platter thing works really well and will look prettier anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 12:41 PM on February 15, 2011

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