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Sticky Pavlova.

Asked by awin_obliza. Answered on 15th January 2013

Full question

Hi Nigella, I'm from Malaysia. It is hot and humid here. I have tried to bake Pavlova. unfortunately, it is not hard on the outside. It is sticky. I have tried a few times but the results were still the same. The exterior is sticky. Not crunchy like how I saw it in your show. I have tried with a pinch of cream of tartar and baked at 120c for 1.5 hours, with at the starting of the baking temperature is at 150c. My oven is fan forced oven.

Our answer

Most meringue recipes are designed to dry out the meringue mixture in the oven. A pavlova is slightly different in that the baking time is shorter and the oven temperature is slightly higher so centre of the meringue remains soft but the outside shell should still be crisp.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to make any type of meringue in a humid environment. Meringues contain a fairly high proportion of sugar and this is the main cause of the problem. Sugar tends to attract water (the scientific term is hygroscopic) and will absorb any moisture in the air around it, particularly if the atmosphere is humid. So trying to make a meringue in these conditions can be a thankless task as the surface will remain soft and sticky, even if you add cream of tartar to stabilize the whisked egg whites.

The most stable meringue mixture is Italian meringue which is made by whisking a hot sugar syrup (cooked to "soft ball stage") into whipped egg whites. It won't collapse as easily as regular meringue and is popular in restaurants as it can be kept in the fridge for a day or so, until needed. However it probably still won't give you a dry and crisp pavlova, but you could use it on items like lemon meringue pie and baked alaska as usually this meringue is browned on the outside with a blowtorch or under a grill (broiler) just before serving.

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