Lisa’s Letters Home: Chocolate Pavlova with Balsamic Strawberries

Lisa’s Letters Home: Chocolate Pavlova with Balsamic Strawberries

When I first moved to England in 2000, I used to spend a lot of time watching the food channel (Carlton back then, I think.) I didn’t really get out much. I was introduced to a whole new world of fresh and fun chefs. A voluptuous, sultry woman with a husky voice gazed at me from the television screen, instructing me to make my pasta water “as salty as the Mediterranean.” Well, alrighty then.

At first, this woman annoyed me intensely; the Vaseline-smeared lens pushed me over the edge. There was all this talk about this new totty who did a bit of cooking, although she was never a professional chef. The more I watched, the more I began to like her.

First and most importantly, Nigella Lawson’s  food looked delicious and easy to make. She seemed to love all the same comfort foods that I did, and really didn’t care if her dishes contained a lot fat. Second, she was built like a real human woman who looked like she genuinely enjoyed her food. She was someone I could identify with.


Yes she was glamorous (particularly as a former writer for Vogue) and yes she had a fancy house in the middle of London and bought all her food at Waitrose and brought it home in a black cab. Somehow she was still everywoman, sticking her face in the fridge at midnight, eating cheesecake with her bare hands.

I use her “Forever Summer” book quite a bit, making everything from grilled veggies with feta to desserts to jugs of sangria. Her chocolate pavlova recipe ( is one of my favourites; it’s easy, you can make it ahead of time, and it feeds a crowd. The kids adore it because it’s like a giant crunchy chocolate marshmallow, but it’s also something you can dress up and stick on a fancy cake plate for grown ups.

A pavlova is essentially a giant meringue, but with a chewy middle. Don’t ask me why you need to add vinegar, but it seems to do some sort of magical thing to the pavlova to keep it chewy. It’s light, sweet, and if you make a mess of it, it genuinely doesn’t matter.


The macerated strawberries are my own addition, as the original recipe calls for a topping of whipped cream and raspberries. You can top this with whatever you like, really. A drizzle of Nutella, crushed hazelnuts, and some sliced bananas sprinkled on top of whipped cream would suit me just fine, thank you. The strawberries may not be to everyone’s taste, particularly your kids. Mine looked at me like I’d presented them with the severed head of Hello Kitty after they tasted the strawberry/basil/balsamic combo.

To be honest, the idea to macerate the strawberries was entirely down to the fact that my punnet was on its last legs. They were already heading towards Squashyville, so a little marinating seemed like a good idea.

Pavlovas mean eating on the deck in the sunshine with good friends and family (preferably after a BBQ.) It’s digging into a shared dessert, plonked in the middle of the table. And pavlovas will always remind me of Nigella, my first British TV chef crush.


Lisa’s Letters Home: Chocolate Pavlova with Balsamic Strawberries


  • For the pavlova:
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 ¼ cups caster/superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (sieved)
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 50g bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped) – I used Green and Black’s 70%
  • For the macerated strawberries:
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • Grinding of black pepper (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C/350ºF and line a cookie sheet with greaseproof paper or a silicon baking sheet.

Combine the ingredients for the macerated strawberries in a bowl, cover, and place in the fridge while you make and bake the pavlova.

You can do this several hours in advance, if you’d like.

Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Gently fold in the cocoa powder, vinegar, and chopped chocolate until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.

Don’t be afraid to give this a good mix; it’s relatively difficult to mix all the air out of the eggs.

Pile the mix on to a baking sheet in a circle about 9” in diameter, smoothing the sides and top.

Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150°C/300ºF and cook for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

When it's ready, it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but still feel a bit squidgy in the centre when you press on it.

Don’t panic if it’s cracked – it’s supposed to look like that.

Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the pavlova cool completely.

At this point, you can store it on the counter for a couple of days if necessary.

Top with (unsweetened) whipped double cream and/or a spoonful of the macerated strawberries.




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