Pavlova is, aesthetically, the very definition of a beautiful disaster, and beautiful disasters are my favorite desserts. I do not like things when they are delicate and fussy. Give me chaos. Give me reckless abandonment. Let me not hesitate in fear of destroying a delicate work of art; let me ravish it immediately with a fierce, lascivious hunger.
There are three components to a pavlova: a disc of sweet meringue, firm on the outside but light and squidgy on the inside. Then there is fruit, usually fresh berries. For fall, I’ve replaced swapped summer berries for maple roasted butternut squash—I find its naturally sweet flavor to be more enjoyable than pumpkin’s, and also I can buy it pre-chopped instead of having to cut up a hard squash into small pieces myself. Lastly, there is a generous piling of whipped cream—in this recipe I mix it with tangy Greek yogurt, which helps keep the sweetness of the meringue and butternut in check. I decided to add a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds—you could also use pecans—to add some sporadic pops of salty, toasty savoriness.
This pavlova will not give you the stress-headaches that come with making an autumn pie. It’s beyond easy, a perfect dessert to try out if you’re just learning to bake. It’s okay if the base cracks, if things break, if dribbles of whipped cream drip off the plate, or a piece of butternut jumps ship and tumbles to the floor. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s born to be frenetic and a bit wild, just like you.
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 2 pounds chopped butternut squash
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Yogurt Whipped Cream
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup thick plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Toasted pumpkin seeds or pecans
- 1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds or roughly chopped pecans
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 225º Fahrenheit (110º Celsius). Put a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Use a marker to draw a 9-inch circle, using a dinner plate as a guide. Then flip the paper over so the marker is on the bottom—this way you can still see the circle without getting ink on your meringue.
In a clean metal bowl, use a mixer (hand mixer or stand mixer) to whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together until they form soft peaks, then add the sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time. Keep beating until you get firm, glossy peaks that stand straight up with you lift the mixer’s beaters. Fold in the vanilla and cornstarch with a spatula, then pour the meringue right into the center of the circle. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to gently coax the meringue towards its edges—it doesn’t need to be a perfect circle, and it doesn’t need to be smooth on top, but try to keep it relatively even.
Bake the meringue for an hour and a half, then turn the oven off without opening the door. Let the meringue cool inside of the oven for at least an hour before removing and setting aside.
Preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit (220º Celsius).
Line a baking sheet with lightly greased aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Put the butternut squash in a large bowl with the spices, salt, and maple syrup, and toss well to coat. Spread out on the baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, then move to a cooling rack or cold stovetop. Use a spatula to fold the butternut and syrup together so it is well glazed, then allow to cool completely.
Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment, then evenly spread out the seeds or nuts. Roast in the oven with the butternut squash for 4 minutes, then give the pan a little shake and continue roasting for 2-4 minutes more until fragrant. Remove from the oven and immediately toss with butter and salt, then allow to cool completely.
Use a mixer (hand mixer or stand mixer) to beat the bejeezus out of the cream, yogurt, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt until they form full peaks status. Lick the beaters when you’re done, because you deserve it.
Run an offset spatula underneath the meringue to detach it from the parchment paper—don’t worry if you crack it a bit, because you can just cover it up and no one will be the wiser. Slide the disc onto a plate or cake stand. Dollop whipped cream all over the top, then pile the butternut squash on top of it. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds/pecans.
Eat this immediately, because after you’ve topped the meringue with everything, it will slowly begin to disintegrate. If you’d like to make the pavlova ahead of time, just keep all the components separate until it’s time to serve.