A Pavlova Christmas Tree!!! A spectacular Christmas dessert standing almost 40cm/ 16″ tall, made with pavlova rounds, decorated with cream and berries just like a traditional Pav.
Easier than you think, and a great holiday dessert to get everyone involved building it together!
This Pavlova Christmas Tree is a lot more straightforward to make than it looks! I’ve gifted it in ready-to-assemble form to several friends and they put the components together with no problems at all!
Pavlova Christmas Tree
And so it has landed here on my own website, a week after being featured on the cover of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sunday Life magazine: The Pavlova Christmas Tree!!
The recipe was first published in the Sunday Life magazine as well as the Good Food Australia website to which I contribute recipes each month. But I was very adamant that I absolutely had to feature the Pavlova Christmas Tree on my website too! Not only because it’s so fabulous, but also because I think it’s a recipe worth explaining in full details, step by step, to ensure success.
Easier than you think!
If you’ve made pavlova in the past, there is nothing daunting about this recipe whatsoever. It’s just a pavlova constructed in a different way.
But if you’re wondering how on earth it can be stable enough to stand so tall at 40cm/16″ high, knowing how fragile traditional Pavlovas are, it’s because the Pavlova Rounds used in this Christmas Tree format are so much smaller and therefore more sturdy.
But if it does collapse??? It can be salvaged! Scroll down to see my salvaged version – a true story of a disaster averted from a gathering last weekend!
Overview – Pavlova Christmas Tree
Here’s an overview of how this is made:
- Make Pavlova Rounds – We’re making a 7-tiered tree here, with the largest being 15cm / 6″ in diameter and the smallest 4cm / 1.7″;
- Strawberry “Pillars” – Just slices of strawberry to help hold up each Pavlova Round;
- Cream – The “glue” that holds it all together;
- Wooden Skewer (hidden) – Acts like a hidden trunk for extra stability. It actually worked fine without but feels more stable with!
- Decorations – Coulis, raspberries, rosemary sprigs and icing sugar for dusting!
1. Draw 7 x Pavlova Round guides
The first step is to draw templates on baking/parchment paper as guides for piping the Pavlova Rounds to the required sizes, shapes and position on the trays:
Just go on a hunt around your house to find circular objects. I use an assortment of things including a small plate, bowl, small cake rings, scone cutters, and egg rings.
Here are the sizes you need – give or take 1 cm / 2/5″ or so:
- 15cm / 6″ – the base
- 12cm / 4.8″
- 10cm / 4″
- 8.5cm / 3.5″
- 6.5cm / 2.5″
- 5cm / 2″
- 4cm / 1.7″
Draw these on two sheets of paper, to be baked on 2 trays, distributed as follows:
- Tray 1 (3 rounds): 15cm, 12cm, 6.5cm (6″, 4.8″, 2.5″) diameter rounds
- Tray 2 (4 rounds): 10cm, 8.5cm, 5cm, 4cm (4″, 3.5″, 2″, 1.7″) diameter rounds
Using a pen or pencil, trace around your objects to draw the guide circles onto 2 sheets of baking / parchment paper, as per above. Make sure you can see the lines through the paper looking through the other side. Then flip the paper upside down on the baking tray so the pen/pencil markings can’t contact the Pav, otherwise it may stain it.
2. Separate eggs
Use any technique that works for you to separate the eggs. I pass the yolk back and forth between shells so the white slides out. If you’re not confident using this technique, just crack the eggs into your hand and let the whites slip through your fingers. Easy!
- Fresh eggs work better – The older the egg, the more liquid the whites become (see demo photos in Poached Eggs). Loose egg whites will not fluff as well when beaten, so the volume of meringue will be less. So try to buy fresh eggs close to the date you’re making the pavlova for the best results;
- Separate eggs while fridge cold – Whites and yolks separate more easily when cold;
- Measure, don’t count eggs – The amount of whites in each egg varies depending on size and other variables. It’s too unreliable to just use “5 eggs”! We need 170ml / 2/3 cup of whites. This might be 4, 5 or 6 eggs. Measure out your whites!
- Whip at room temp – While eggs separate better when cold, they fluff up better at room temperature when beaten. So after measuring out the whites, leave the whites to come to room temperature (17 – 20°C).
⚠️ Precautionary tip ⚠️
Separate one egg at a time into a separate bowl before adding into measuring jug, so you don’t risk ruining an entire batch of egg whites if you accidentally pierce a yolk. This is important because even the slightest drop of egg yolk can prevent the egg whites from becoming fluffy.
3. Make meringue mixture
Making the meringue mixture for the pavlova is nice and easy. Just beat, beat, beat!!! (Oh, and make sure your bowl and whisk are clean and dry. Meringue hates grease and water!)
- Soft peaks – Beat the egg whites for 1 1/2 minutes on speed 8 until soft peaks form;
- Gradually add sugar – With the beater running, add sugar one spoonful at a time. This keeps the whites more aerated and ensures the sugar dissolves, compared with dumping all the sugar in one go;
- Beat 6 minutes on speed 8. The whites will become thick and glossy, and when you rub between your fingers there should be no sugar grit remaining;
- Vinegar & cornflour/cornstarch for added stability – Add 1 1/4 teaspoons vinegar and sift 2 1/2 teaspoons cornflour across the meringue surface, then beat for a further 30 seconds. Just a bit of cornflour and vinegar helps make the pavlova more structurally stable and strong – desirable for this towering tree! So why not add more? Because you will start to taste the powdery-ness from the cornflour or sourness from vinegar. Also, these thinner Pavlova Rounds forms are naturally stronger than large traditional pavlovas!
- Thick and glossy – The meringue mixture should be thick and glossy, but just to be extra sure, do the ….
- Upside down test! Flip the bowl upside down and ensure no meringue drops down. If it doesn’t, you know it’s stiff enough for sure and your Pav is going to be a winner! (PS If yours drips down, keep beating!)
4. Pipe Pavlova Rounds
A piping bag will make your life a lot easier to spread the meringue mixture into the required rounds, but you could easily just spoon and spread, like I do for traditional Pavlovas.
The Pavlova Rounds are 2cm / 4/5″ thick. I like to add a decorative edge to make it look pretty but this is entirely optional!
- Wide tip – Use a wide-tipped piping nozzle; the one I use is about 1.2cm / 1/2″ diameter nozzle. I use a star-shaped nozzle because I like to do a decorative edge (step 4) but you could just use a plain round nozzle and skip the decorative edge. No piping bag or nozzles? No problems. Just use a spoon to dollop then spread. Or snip the corner of a ziplock bag to create a makeshift piping bag!
- Two layers of meringue per round – Pipe a tight coil of meringue with no gaps within each circle guide, leaving a 1.2cm / 1/2″ border for the decorative edge. (As mentioned, the decorative edge is optional. Note that the two smallest rounds are too small to decorate, so forget trying.) Then do a second layer. Each Pavlova Round should be about 2cm / 4/5″ thick;
- Smooth surface – Use a palette knife to smooth the surface;
- Pipe decorative edges, if desired (you did leave the room for that, right?) I just do tight up-and-down motions all around the edge. Remember: The two smallest circles are too small for decorating edges;
- Tray 1 with the larger circles will go on the middle shelf of the oven; and
- Tray 2 with four smaller ones will go on the shelf below.
5. Bake & cool
Dozer played a pivotal role in this step….
But don’t worry, you don’t actually need a Pav-sitter!!😂
The two essential steps for cooking a Pavlova are:
- Use a low temperature so the Pavlova stays a pretty white colour; and
- Fully cool the Pavlova in the closed oven for at least 3 hours so it completely dries out on the outside. Sometimes I even leave it in overnight! (PS Excellent storage option)
- Bake 1 hour at 120°C/250°F with Tray 1 on the middle shelf and Tray 2 on the shelf underneath;
- Check the base of the large ones. They should be dry and crispy from edge to edge, not sticky. You should be able to pick the pavlova up as pictured without feeling it might fold or sag. Handle with care because they are still delicate at this stage, before we cool them. If they are not fully crisp, leave in the oven for a further 5 minutes. Humidity and the accuracy of your oven come into play here, so it might take a bit longer. However it’s not a problem; at the low temperature we are using, you can keep them in the oven as long as needed;
- Cool 3 hours in oven – After confirming they’re done, turn the oven off and keep the door closed. Leave the pavlova to fully cool in the closed oven. This step fully dries out the outside to make it crisp and sturdy, while keeping the inside that soft marshmallow texture that we all love so much! This might take 3 hours, it might take 5, depending on the heat retention of your oven etc. You can even leave them in overnight – this is actually the routine I usually adopt. Ovens make an excellent storage space for pavlovas, since they’re dry environments and should be airtight!
- Sturdier than you’d expect! Once cool, remove from the oven and marvel at how light and delicate they feel, yet you can tell they are sturdy enough to build a towering Pavlova Christmas Tree!
The Pavlova Rounds should be sturdy enough to do THIS:
6. Construction time! EASIER than you think
Don’t stress, HAVE FUN! This is MUCH easier to construct than you think, and it’s more stable than you’d expect. I have gifted the components disassembled to a handful of friends and they all put it together with no problems at all.
I’ve also got tips below for how to fix it if it does start leaning, and how to salvage if it does actually collapse. And yes, I have even had one collapse on me but saved it! (Pro tip: Do not run past a pavlova tree frantically searching for garnishes if your house has bouncy wooden flooring that sends shockwaves in all directions 😂)
Worst case scenario? You end up with an Eton Mess on your hands instead. It’s a real dish that is essentially a collapsed Pavlova, and I’m going to tell you how to make it look gorgeous!
What you need for construction
To build the Pavlova Christmas Tree, here is what you need:
- Whipped cream – Lightly sweetened with sugar and flavoured with vanilla, ie. Chantilly cream;
- Strawberries “Pillars” – A word I made up for strawberry slices that are used on each layer to help support the next Pavlova Round on top of it;
- Chopped strawberries – Just a small scattering on each layer, mainly so when you cut through the middle, it’s not just all white cream;
- Raspberry or Strawberry Coulis – For a fabulous splash of colour and some tartness in between each layer. (PS “Coulis” is just a fancy word for blitzed raspberries. It’s dead easy);
- Fresh raspberries – For decorating and propping up adjustments at the end!
- Rosemary sprigs – A nice green garnish to evoke Christmas Trees;
- Icing sugar / powdered sugar – Our “snow”!
- Bamboo Skewer – A hidden “trunk” inside for extra support. A long 30cm / 12″ one is ideal if you can find one, otherwise just use multiple shorter ones.
How to build the Pavlova Christmas Tree
And here’s how to do it!
- Cream first – Spread the largest Pavlova Round with cream;
- Strawberry pillars – Press in 4 strawberry pillars. Press gently until they make contact with the surface of the Pavlova Round;
- Chopped strawberries & coulis – Scatter with some diced strawberries and a drizzle of coulis, being sure to put some towards the edge so it oozes out prettily;
- Cover with more cream;
- Skewer – Insert your skewer vertically into the centre of the pavlova;
- Top with another Pavlova Round – Thread the centre of the next largest Pavlova Round through the skewer, twisting gently back and forth to pierce a hole without breaking the pav. Then press down gently onto the cream layer, checking to ensure it is level;
- Repeat! Repeat steps 1 to 4 above….
- Finishing with the smallest Pavlova Round!
Other than starting with cream and the Strawberry Pillars on each layer, it really doesn’t matter what order in which you then do the diced strawberries / coulis / 2nd layer of cream. You’ll see me switch it up as I construct in the recipe video.
7. Decorating! (And levelling)
This final step of prettying up the Pavlova Christmas Tree is also a chance to make levelling adjustments to ensure we don’t have a toppled tree!
- Pretty it up! Stud raspberries and rosemary sprigs around the Christmas Tree – not too many, just enough to make it look pretty. Remember, less is more with this Christmas Dessert, and we want to get it to the table sooner rather than later!
- Levelling – This is also the chance to walk around the Pav to check how level each layer is, and use raspberries to prop up parts that are not level. Just stuff the raspberries in gently, just on the edges. But don’t get cocky and try to lift an entire Pavlova Round! Just do the edges!
- Star! This is just a Christmas tree decoration I swiped, then sticky taped a toothpick on the back. Kudos to you if you make an edible star!
- Dust with “snow”! Well, icing sugar. 😂 Don’t underestimate the power of a little icing sugar! It makes it so pretty.
Biggest advice: Stop fiddling to make it perfect. This is a pav. It is SUPPOSED to be fabulously rustic!
Structural woes: Salvaging!
You are unlikely to have issues with the tree leaning or collapsing while constructing it. But if you faff around with the decorations at the end for too long, this is when you might have a bit of a Leaning Tower of Pavlova situation.
If it starts leaning, get a helper to hold the sliding layers straight while you prop it up with raspberries – they are the best because chopped strawberries are wet and slippery.
If it partially topples but the Pavlova Rounds remain in tact, use spatulas to right the collapsed layer then stuff raspberries under it to make it level again. Hide the “mess” with a pile of raspberries/strawberries, sprigs of rosemary and lots of icing sugar.
You see the pile of raspberries on the bottom right in the photo below? That’s exactly what I did!
- If you get TOTAL COLLAPSE – Don’t cry! Don’t be embarrassed! Chin up: You just made an Eton Mess instead, that’s all! It is a real dish and there are high end patisseries in Sydney that charge a small fortune for them. They are a rustic jumbled layer of Pavlova chunks, cream and berries which is EXACTLY what you’ve made (albeit unintentionally 😂)! Just gather it up in a pile, wipe the plate clean, pile on berries and rosemary, dust with LOTS of icing sugar and proudly take it to the table. Remember: It will still taste just as amazing!!!
Moving the Pavlova Christmas Tree
I recommend constructing the Pavlova Christmas Tree either where you plan to serve it (if you can handle all eyes on you while you build it!) or at least nearby. While it is stable enough to move, the less you have to move it the better, just to eliminate the risk of a freak accident like tripping over nothing and doing a face plant in your hard work!!
Get someone to be a spotter when you carry it, just to stabilise it if it does start swaying.
It’s also best to construct it inside where it is cooler. Pavlovas don’t like heat – they sweat and the crust cracks, and there is nothing inside to keep them from collapsing. Also, hot temperatures melt cream which might make the layers start to slide!
How to serve the Pavlova Christmas Tree
“Serve” is a loose term!!!
The idea here is that nominated lucky people will slide the top layers off the skewer and get a whole piece to themselves.
But before you start fretting about the likelihood of Pavlova Wars breaking out at your family Christmas gathering as everyone vies for the coveted top layers, let me remind you that the bottom layers have a higher ratio of the all-important marshmallow insides, more cream, more coulis – just more of all the good stuff!
And then really, the only question is – to share or not to share? You could be civil and spoon out individual portions, everyone to get their own bowls.
Of, if you’re a really close knit family, you could just all grab a fork a dig in…
Now THIS is a sign of a dessert that was enjoyed!!!
And so there you have it. The Pavlova Christmas Tree.
Easier than you think … Prepare the Pav ahead … Work together to build it.
Then stand back and admire the beauty that is the grandest of all Pavlovas to grace your Christmas table!!! – Nagi x
PS. As if I haven’t said it over enough, this is dessert is easier than it looks! And even with a doomsday scenario of full-collapse, the outcome is salvageable – by presenting it as an Eton Mess!
Watch how to make it
Pavlova Christmas Tree
- 2/3 cup egg whites from 5 – 6 large eggs, at room temperature (Note 1)
- 1 1/4 cups caster sugar (superfine white sugar)
- 2 1/2 tsp cornflour/cornstarch
- 1 1/4 tsp white vinegar (Note 2)
Raspberry coulis (or strawberry):
- 250g / 8oz frozen or fresh raspberries (no need to thaw, Note 3)
- 2 tbsp caster sugar (superfine white sugar)
- 2 cups thickened/heavy cream (Note 8)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp caster sugar (superfine white sugar)
- 28cm/ 11" bamboo skewer – or 2 shorter skewers (Note 4)
- 10 strawberries , medium, cut into 1.75cm / 3/4″ rounds (“Strawberry Pillars”)
- 12 strawberries cut into 1cm dices (for scattering between layers)
- Christmas tree star topper , edible or not, sticky taped to a toothpick
- 125g/ 4oz raspberries
- 16 small sprigs of rosemary
- 2 tbsp icing sugar/powdered sugar , for dusting
- More strawberries (diced), raspberries, blueberries, and any other fruit you fancy!
- Preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F (130°C fan) (We drop the temperature down later). Set the oven shelves in the centre and lowest racks.
- Draw circles: Take two sheets of baking/parchment paper and, using a pen that shows on the other side of the paper, trace circles around bowls, cookie cutters, scone cutters or glasses as follows:Tray 1: 15cm, 12cm, 6.5cm (6″, 4.8″, 2.5″) diameter roundsTray 2: 10cm, 8.5cm, 5cm, 4cm (4″, 3.5″, 2″, 1.7″) diameter rounds
- Turn the paper over and bake on the unmarked side (otherwise pen may stain pav).
Meringue for Pavlova:
- Soft peaks: Place egg whites in a bowl of a stand mixer and beat on Speed 8 for 1 1/2 minutes. (Note 5)
- Add sugar gradually: With the beater still going, add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until all used up – it should take around 90 seconds.
- Beat 6 min: Beat for a further 6 minutes (still on Speed 8) until thick, glossy and no sugar grains remain (rub between fingers to check).
- Add cornflour & vinegar: Stop beater, sift cornflour over surface. Add vinegar. Beat on speed 8 for a further 30 seconds.
- Test: Flip bowl upside down. Meringue should be stiff enough that it does not fall out! If it does, keep beating.
Piping Pavlova Rounds:
- Fit a piping bag with a large 1.2cm / 1/2" diameter star shaped piping nozzle, fill with meringue mixture. (Note 6 for alternatives)
- Pipe tight coils, leaving a 1.2cm / 1/2″ border within the guidelines for the decorative edge (except the two smallest ones, they are too small for decorative rims).
- Then do another coil on top (ie two layers) so they are 2cm / 4/5″ thick. Smooth surface. Pipe decorative edge, if using (I just do tight up-and-down swirls, see video).
- Repeat for all rounds. (Note: Pavs will expand ever so slightly but will not rise)
- Place Tray 1 on middle shelf in oven, Tray 2 underneath.
- Turn oven DOWN: Immediately turn oven DOWN to 120°C/250°F (100°C fan).
- Bake 1 hour. Check to ensure base of large ones are fully crisp and dry, not wet & sticky. You should be able to lift off without sagging – be GENTLE, it's fragile until dried out.
- Cool 3 hours IN oven: Turn oven off. Leave pavlova to fully cool in oven, at least 3 hours, maybe longer. I often leave overnight. In this step, the outside of pav dries out and becomes more sturdy. The pav should be fully crisp and dry to touch.
- Store until needed in airtight containers, in a cool, dry part of your house (I keep mine in the downstairs laundry! Note 9)
Raspberry Coulis (make at least 2 hours ahead):
- Place ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer 5 minutes, mashing with fork. Puree with stick blender (strain if you want, I do not). Cool fully before use.
- Whip cream just before building – do not whip in advance and keep in fridge, it deflates.
- Place cream, vanilla and sugar in a large chilled bowl. Beat on high for 5 minutes until stiff. (Go beyond soft, lightly whipped, we need the structure!). Refrigerate until the very moment until you start buildling.
Construction (watch video!)
- Be prepared: Have everything out, ready to use. Construct at or near where you plan to serve.
- Layer 1: Place largest Pavlova Round on serving platter. Spread with 1cm / 2/5" thick layer of cream, right to the edge. Place 4 strawberry pillars around the edge, onto which the next layer will rest. Gently press them into the cream so they rest on the pav surface. Scatter some chopped strawberries in the middle of the pillars – not too many as we do not want to weigh the pav down. Drizzle with raspberry coulis, especially near the edge so it oozes out prettily. Spread with a bit more cream to cover the strawberries – make sure the cream is level for the next layer. Stick a skewer into the centre, pointy end up.
- Layer 2: Thread the centre of the next largest Pavlova Round onto the skewer, spinning back and forth gently to "screw" it through rather than pushing it through. It won't shatter – pav is tougher than you think. Repeat the cream, strawberry pillars, strawberry dice, coulis and cream steps above.
- Repeat Layers 3 to 7: Continue this with layers 3 to 7, finishing with the smallest meringue. You will only need 2 strawberry pillars on the smaller layers, and 1 under the centre of the smallest. If the skewer isn't long enough, thread through another one for the upper part of the tree. With each layer, check that the tree is straight and level. Use strawberries to level up the layers.
- Star topper: When the smallest Pavlova is placed on the very top, finish with a dollop of cream, small drizzle of coulis. Then insert the star, plus a raspberry and sprig or rosemary!
- Decorate with sprigs of rosemary, and insert raspberries onto the edges between layers (halve if necessary, to fit), using them to level out crooked layers, if needed.
- Dust with icing sugar and then serve immediately!
- The top 2 layers are single serving size. The next 2 layers will serve 2 people each. The bottom 4 layers can be cut like traditional Pavs and will easily serve another 8 – 10 people.
- For best results, use fresh eggs
- DO NOT use carton egg whites – it doesn’t fluff up nearly as well
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks while fridge cold (it’s easier to do than with warm eggs)
- Measure out the egg whites until you have 2/3 cup / 170 ml. Sometimes this is 5 large eggs, sometimes it is 6 eggs;
- Then leave it until it comes to room temperature, because cold eggs do not whip up as well. The cooking definition of “room temp” is 17 – 20°C / 63 – 68°F but you don’t need to thermometer to check, just as long as the whites don’t have the fridge chill, then they are fine to use.
- increase beating time of 6 minutes per recipe to 7 minutes. If your handheld beater is not very powerful, you may need even longer (be sure to do the Step 5 Meringue Test); and
- use a large heavy based glass bowl so it will not move unaided. This way you can keep the beater going with one hand while adding sugar with the other (stopping/starting is a pain!)
- It is more stable than you expect, and at 25°C/77°F or less temperatures, should stand tall for 1 hour+ (in my experience, I’ve made 8 this year!). So don’t stress, don’t rush, but also don’t take a nap mid-construction!
- Remember, Pavs are SUPPOSED to look rustic, so stop fiddling with it! Also, the final dusting of lots of icing sugar makes anything look fabulous.
- Beat the cream until stiff, not softly whipped like recipes usually call for (ie cream will be thick and look raggedy rather than a smooth dolloping consistency).
- Don’t weigh down Pav with too many berries, serve extra on the side.
- With every layer, check to ensure it is level and straight (walk around).
- Construct at or near where you are serving, preferably cool/air conditioned (pav and cream do not agree with heat and humidity!).
- Use raspberries at the end to “level” any crooked layers by tucking them into the edges.
- If yours unfortunately collapses for some reason but is salvageable (ie. when Pav Rounds stay intact), put it back upright and hide mess with raspberries (see in post for the one I salvaged!).
- If it is not salvageable, pile it up on a plate, as tall as you can, and proudly call it an Eton Mess! Decorate with lots and lots of berries, rosemary sprigs, icing sugar, and send me a photo – email@example.com ❤️ It might not look like what you wanted, but it will STILL be delicious!
- Pav Rounds can be made 24 hours ahead in hot weather, 48 hours ahead in mild weather. Store in airtight containers in the coolest part of your house (I keep mine in the downstairs laundry!) I often make Pavs in the evening then cool overnight in the oven.
- Pavlovas do not like hot weather and humidity, it makes them sweat and break. Also, never refrigerate pavlovas!
- Coulis can be made up to 2 days before, store in fridge.
- Cream – Do not whip until just prior to using (it loses aeration).
- Constructed Pavlova Christmas Tree – must be consumed, doesn’t keep well at all!
Life of Dozer
Some size context for you – Dozer is a VERY big dog!!!