Pavlova — Ballerina and Dessert: Why Is the World Going Crazy About Them?

Pavlova — Ballerina and Dessert: Why Is the World Going Crazy About Them?

Anna Pavlova made the whole world fall in love with Russian ballet. One of the symbols of this feeling is the famous cake named by confectioners in her honor. It makes the hearts of people with a sweet tooth beat faster and easily gets likes on social media - only on Instagram, there are over 1.2 million posts with the hashtag #pavlova.

“Feather, air, wind”, - choreographer Marius Petipa said about Pavlova student at the audition. Just a few years later, the ballerina performed the first roles in The Sleeping Beauty, Esmeralda, Giselle and soon became the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater. Pavlova’s technique was not as good as that of Mathilde Kschessinska, Olga Preobrazhenskaya and Tamara Karsavina, but her personal charm, fluidity, airiness and talent for sensuous experience of dancing were so attractive that the audience could not take their eyes off the stage.

“Pavlova is a cloud hovering above the ground,” - newspapers wrote.

Pavlova became world famous thanks to the choreographic miniature The Swan, staged by Michael Fokine - the ballerina turned a serene dance into a tragedy, showing death of the graceful bird in the finale. In 1908, the dancer toured several European cities. In 1909, she was the face of the Russian Seasons organized by Diaghilev in Paris - it was Pavlova’s arabesque that artist Valentin Serov depicted on the poster. A year later, America applauded the ballerina.

After emigration to the United Kingdom, Pavlova spent most of her time on tours with her own ballet company. She brought ballet to the most remote corners of the world - to Egypt, China, Japan, Burma, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

The fashion for Pavlova gained momentum over the years, she was expected everywhere, even without any sets and orchestra. Brands of perfume, candy, and even clothing styles were named after her.

The ballerina's partner on stage Lavrenty Novikov wrote: “The charm of her personality was so great that she made an indelible impression on the audience whatever part she was dancing. To a certain extent, this explains the fact that her repertoire consisted of performances that had nothing innovative in them. Pavlova did not set out to create something sensational — she was a sensation herself, although she hardly realized it. Whatever she touched, she enlivened everything with her charm and sincerity.”

In 1926, the "Russian Swan" was touring Australia and New Zealand. Those performances became the starting point for the emergence of two versions of the origin of the Pavlova cake. Australians and New Zealanders have argued for almost a century over who first came up with the famous meringue and whipped cream dessert.

Pavlova's biographer Keith Mani found evidence that the chef of one hotel restaurant in Wellington was the first to make a cake especially for the touring ballerina.

However, in Australia, they believe that the recipe was invented by Bert Sachet. The Australian chef presented his masterpiece at a celebration in 1935, saying: "the same airy, weightless ... like Pavlova!”  Allegedly, the name established then. The ballerina had already died by that time, but her fame continued to live on all continents.

In 2008, New Zealand anthropology professor Helen Leach published a book, The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History. The author was collecting the story bit by bit from different cookbooks, which contained 667 recipes of this dessert from 300 sources. According to the anthropologist, the first recipe was published in New Zealand in 1929, and in Australia it appeared only in 1935.

This international competition for authorship has already become a good tradition and is unlikely to ever end - researchers found similar recipes under different names in the cuisines of both countries in the 19th century books.

The names of other countries are also mentioned in the dispute. For example, according to research by New Zealander Dr. Andrew Paul Wood and Australian Annabelle Utrecht, the cake recipe was published on boxes of American starch that was shipped to Australia and New Zealand. The product was used to cook meringues. However, that recipe was allegedly based on an earlier German dessert brought to the United States by German emigrants.

Today, there are many confectionery versions of the Pavlova, but all of them are invariably united by an airy base of sweet meringue emphasized with fruit or berry sourness. When baking the base, they use corn starch, which makes it crispy on the outside and viscous inside, distinguishing the Pavlova meringue from the classic one. A recipe with a top layer of strawberries is popular around the world; in Great Britain, they prefer to put raspberries; in New Zealand, they add kiwi. Quite often confectioners use passionfruit or feijoa pulp. In restaurants, they usually serve the Pavlova in dessert bowls, because when you cut from a large cake slices lose shape due to their airy consistency. The Pavlova cake is usually not high, round or ring-shaped.

In the world culinary, there were other dishes that used the ballerina’s name, for example, Strawberry Pavlova - an American dessert reminiscent of popsicles, but only the Pavlova became a gastronomic classic. It is difficult to give a definitive answer to the question "how did a ballerina and a dessert of the same name manage to drive the whole world crazy?" There is a certain magic in both the Russian prima ballerina and the cake named after her.