Low Calorie Mango and Strawberry Pavlova for Christmas

 "... Pavlova dazzled them all. 

The air was pale pink and all cares melted away." 

- Maira Kalman

Whether illustrator and author, Maira Kalman was talking about the beautiful and light meringue dessert or the graceful and lithesome ballerina, Anna Pavlova, after whom this ethereal dessert was named, Kalman was right on both accounts. Pavlova is indeed an impressive sight to behold and an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to make the acquaintance.

Strawberry and mango pavlova, rose petals, fat free pavlova, greek yogurt, pavlova for Christmas, low calorie pavlova

A classic Pavlova was one of the first desserts I made (and perfected) after getting married. After all, this newly wed needed something to impress her husband's friends and family. And this easy to make and absolutely gorgeous pavlova never disappointed. Every dinner party I threw during that first year of marriage always featured a beautiful, sweet and light pavlova with a crisp meringue nest, filled with fluffy clouds of unsweetened whipped cream and topped off with seasonal fruit

It's been a while since I last made a pavlova. But, when I recently opened one of my favourite recipe books, "Cake" by Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman, Kalman's colorful and whimsical illustrations and Scott-Goodman's recipe for a beautiful pavlova propelled me into action. After all these years, it was time to make a pavlova once again. 

Cake recipe book, Cake cook book, Maira Kalman, Barbara Scott-Goddman
Illustration by Maira Kalman from the recipe book "Cake" by Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman.

A Low-Calorie, Fat-Free Pavlova

Inspired by Kalman and Scott-Goodman's classic pavlova recipe, I share my adapted version for a low-calorie, fat-free pavlova that's a perfect dessert, not just in summer, but also for Thanksgiving, Christmas or for any other celebration.  A traditional pavlova is served with loads of freshly whipped cream. And while full-fat whipped cream tastes divine, it's also full of saturated fat. 

What can you use instead of cream in pavlova, you might ask? My healthier version of a traditional pavlova uses fat-free, whipped Fage Greek yoghurt instead of whipped cream.

Without the extra fat calories from whole cream, this pavlova served with greek yogurt is still extremely delicious, much healthier than a traditional pavlova, packed with protein and completely fat free. I actually think the ballerina, Anna Pavlova, for whom this dessert was originally created, would actually have preferred this version. I know her waistline would have!

Origins of Pavlova

Australia and New Zealand still quibble about who invented the pavlova. But the story goes, that legendary Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. To celebrate her during her visit, a special and unique dessert was specially created for her to embody all the virtues of this lovely ballerina- beauty, lightness and delicacy. 

Illustration of ballerina Anna Pavlova, Cake recipe book, Cake cook book, Maira Kalman, Barbara Scott-Goddman
Anna Pavlova, the beautiful ballerina and namesake of the dessert.
Beautifully illustrated by Maira Kalman from the recipe book "Cake" by Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman.

"The pav," as it's commonly nicknamed Down Under, is a popular summer dessert which is also served during celebrations, Christmas and the Holidays. Don't forget that Christmas in Australia is in summer. So, their summer or Christmas Pavlovas are often topped with summer time fruits.

The 3 Components of a Pavlova

1. A crisp meringue base made with beaten egg whites and sugar baked into a crispy shell with a marshmallowy, slightly chewy center.
2. Dollops of whipped cream (traditional) or whipped fat-free yogurt for a healthier version which is added just before serving.
3. A topping of fresh, soft fruit.

Pavlova Topping Ideas : The Best Fruit for Pavlovas

Any soft, seasonal fruit can be used to top a pavlova. Here are a couple of ideas, but feel free to get creative and mix and match, customizing your pavlova.

Classic Pavlovas: topped with strawberries, kiwi fruit and passion fruit.

Tropicalova Pavlovas: Mangoes, papayas, bananas, toasted coconut flakes.

Berry Pavlovas: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries.

Chocolate Pavlovas: Nutella, strawberries and/or bananas.

And who says you need to stop at fruits? Add some floral toppings like edible fresh pansies, violas, rose petals or chamomile flowers. Or even edible candied flowers.

Strawberry and mango pavlova, rose petals, fat free pavlova, greek yogurt, pavlova for Christmas, low calorie pavlova

Tips and Secrets for a Perfect Pavlova

Pavlova is just made with just a few ingredients, but sadly, it is possible to botch a pavlova pavlova. Avoid potential problems by following these tips to bake a perfect pavlova on your first go.

1. Eggs

  • Separate eggs carefully. Ensure that there is absolutely no egg yolk in the egg whites or else the egg whites won't become voluminous and fluffy when beaten.
  • Use clean, grease-free equipment. To whip egg whites, use a clean, dry bowl that is completely grease free. That goes for the electric beaters as well.  Any grease will prevent the egg whites from becoming frothy and foamy.
  • Use room temperature egg whites to help the foam form quickly. 
  • Whip egg whites only until soft peaks forms. What is a soft peak? A soft peak will form in a matter of a couple of minutes of beating egg whites with a hand blender. Test for soft peaks but turning off the blender and holding the blender up. When you hold the beater up, the egg foam forms a peak but the tip of the peak curls ever so slightly back. It's not yet stiff enough to stand smartly upright. This is a soft egg white peak. 
Egg whites, soft peaks, foamy egg whites, beaten egg whites
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

  • Do not over beat egg whites. How do you know if you have overbeaten egg whites? The foam will form clumps and look lumpy.
  • How do you fix over beaten egg whites? Add another egg white to the mix and whip for a few more seconds to moisten and thin out the overbeaten clumps. Take care to whip just until soft peaks form.

2. Sugar

  • Use caster/superfine sugar or bakers sugar so that the sugar can dissolve in the egg foam easily. Granulated sugar is a complete no-no since it will not dissolve completely in the egg whites and the mixture will remain grainy or gritty.
  • To make your own caster sugar, grind down granulated sugar with a few pulses in a food processor to break down the sugar into finer crystals.
  • Add the sugar slowly, a little at a time, beating well. The mixture will start to become shiny. 
  • Beat until peaks are stiff and glossy. At this stage you can turn the bowl over your head and nothing will fall out on you. Try it :)
Meringue, stiff peaks, egg whites and sugar, pavlova
Beat superfine sugar into egg whites until the meringue mixture becomes shiny, firm and hard peaks form.

3. Cream of Tartar and Vinegar

Don't skip these 2 ingredients. In a tiny quantity, these ingredients help to stabilize the egg whites. The acidity helps the meringue inflate fully, develop more volume and also helps retain its structure better.

4. Cornstarch

Cornstarch helps stabilize the meringue, giving it structure and helping to get that lovely marshmallowy center. 
  • The cornstarch  should be sprinkled into the meringue mixture at the end. 
  • Use a spatula to fold the cornstarch into the mixture until it is just incorporated
  • Take care not to overmix and deflate the meringue.

4. Why does my pavlova go brown?

Your oven is probably too hot. Every oven runs slightly differently, so you may need to experiment with your oven to find the perfect temperature. It's better to bake the pavlova at a lower temperature for a longer period. After the baking period, turn off the oven and leave the pavlova in the oven for an hour to dry out further.

5. How do you know when the pavlova is cooked?

Avoid opening the oven while the pavlova is baking. 
The pavlova is cooked when the outside is crispy and dry. It should feel light and lift easily off the parchment paper. The exterior may have a few cracks, which is alright. The inside should be marshmallowy. 

Low Calorie Pavlova Recipe

Servings: Serves 6-8
Makes 1 large 10 inch pavlova 
or two 7.5 inch pavlovas


☐ 1 cup superfine sugar
☐ 1 tablespoon cornstarch
☐ 4 large egg whites at room temperature
☐ 1/4 teaspoon salt
☐ 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
☐ 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
☐ 1 teaspoon white vinegar
☐ 1 cup Greek yogurt, whipped/ stirred with a fork
☐ Fresh fruit (strawberries and mangoes)

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Prep
  • Preheat oven to 275°F (for a 10 inch meringue) or 250°F (if baking two 7.5 inch meringues). 
  • Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Using an appropriately sized round plate as a guide, mark the outline of the plate with a pencil.
White plate, pencil, parchment paper.
Use a plate to draw a circle on parchment paper. You will use this as the outline for the pavlova.

2. Beat egg whites 
 In a clean bowl, with a mixer, beat egg whites until lightly frothy. 
Add salt and cream of tartar.
Beat again until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat.

3. Make meringue
  • Gradually add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating constantly until the mixture looks glossy and stiff peaks form.
  • Sprinkle in the cornstarch, vanilla and vinegar and fold in with a rubber spatula until just blended.

4. Form meringue nest or shell
Spoon mix into the circle on the parchment lined baking tray. Spread meringue into a large nest using the back of a tablespoon. The edges should be 1 1/12 inches high and the center should be shallow. 

Pavlova nests, shells, meringue nests, meringue shells
Spoon meringue mixture into the circles to form nests.

5. Bake
  • For one 10 inch meringue, bake for 1 hour 15 minutes at 275°F.  If baking two 7.5 inch meringues, bake for 1 hour 20 minutes at 250°F.
  • Turn the heat off and leave the meringue in the oven for 1 hour to dry out thoroughly. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

6. Add whipped yogurt and fruit before serving
  • Before serving, place meringue shell on a serving plate.
  • Just before serving, whip/ stir the Greek yogurt with a fork to form a smooth, creamy mixture. Spoon into the center of the meringue. 
  • Then top the greek yoghurt with freshly sliced mangoes, strawberries and rose petal. Serve immediately.

Strawberry and mango pavlova, rose petals, fat free pavlova, greek yogurt, pavlova for Christmas, low calorie pavlova
Top meringue with beaten yogurt and fresh fruit and flowers.


What to do with a failed, flat or broken pavlova?

Don't worry. That happens to the best of us; a botched pavlova. The intention was right, but with possible distractions, your pavlova turns out to be a flop. If you have a failed, flat or broken pavlova, just make a "Memsahib's Mess." It's a version of the classic Eton Mess. Check out my recipe here.

Make a 'Memsahib's Mess' with a botched pavlova. Click here for the recipe.


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