dark chocolate, mint and berry pavlova with hazelnut praline

A few years ago, I came across a recipe by Nigella Lawson for a chocolate pavlova topped with double cream, raspberries & chocolate shavings. It looked delicious, chocolatey and rich, and true to form I… well, I decided to make up my own version. That process basically involved making a traditional meringue with the late additions of raw cocoa, dark chocolate & syrupy balsamic. After another read of the recipe and some consideration, I also decided to eliminate my usual addition of cornflour. I suppose I assumed that in Nigella’s recipe, the cocoa would stabilize the meringue as needed.

Scooping the raw meringue onto a baking sheet, I was pleased – it looked beautiful, glossy and thick, studded with beads of deep, dark chocolate. The oven door closed with a soft thud. I glanced at the clock. Then I waited.

Fast forward a couple of hours and the now-cooled meringue disc was out of the oven, sitting proudly upon my kitchen bench. It looked beautiful, high and crisp, slight fault lines exposing a chocolate-studded marshmallowy interior. With a smile, I inverted it onto a serving platter, eagerly topping it with thick whipped double cream. This was where the beauty faded. A crack became a crater and before I knew it, the cream and cherry topping had fallen into a deep, dark hole. It still tasted delicious, but since then I’ve perfected my recipe to eliminate the crater whilst also altering it to become a meringue torte. As you’ll see, the stabilizing cornflour is back whilst other small changes such as fresh mint, homemade cherry jam and hazelnut praline create freshness, crunch and a dessert to remember.

As you might have guessed, this pavlova’s become a hit amongst family and friends, alongside another variation they call ‘Black Forest Pavlova’ due to it’s resemblance to a certain German torte. Like the cake, both variations are richly delicious, creamy, moist, and studded with juicy black cherries. The recipe below is for the mint and berry version, but check the included ‘notes’ for tips to transform it into a Black Forest. Try one for your next celebration, especially if you’ve got chocaholics on the list. You (and they) won’t be disappointed.

Dark Chocolate, Mint and Berry Pavlova with Hazelnut Praline

Serves 6-8

For the meringue:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 270g superfine caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp raw cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 tsp of cornflour, sieved
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 80g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa)

To serve:

  • 500ml full-fat whipping cream
  • Minted berry filling (recipe to follow)
  • 50g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa), coarsely shaved
  • 1/2 cup hazelnut praline (recipe to follow)
  • Mint leaves & whole black cherries for garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).  Take two sturdy baking trays (at least 30x30cm in size) and cut a square piece of baking paper to fit each. Trace a central circle around 20cm in diameter (I use a 20cm diameter cake tin as a template) on each piece of baking paper, then set your lined trays aside.

Place your egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating until your meringue is stiff and shiny.

At this point, add your cocoa, balsamic, cornflour and chopped chocolate. Gently fold in with a spatula or balloon whisk until thoroughly mixed. Place half of your meringue on each paper-lined baking tray, in the centre of your traced circles. Smooth out to fill the circle, ensuring that your mound has a smoothish top and defined sides.

Turn your oven down to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f), then place your two trays in the oven (on central shelves, if possible). Cook for around 60-75 minutes, switching your trays half way through the cooking process. You will know your meringue is cooked when the exterior looks crisp and dry, and it feels hard beneath your fingers. Don’t wait for it to crack – this means that it’s already gone too far! When cooked, turn off your oven, leaving your meringue discs inside to cool with the door slightly ajar for at least 2 hours, or overnight (if you remove them at this point, they will cool too quickly and the meringue may crack and collapse).

To serve your meringue torte: Invert one of your meringue discs onto a large, flat bottomed serving plate. Whisk your cream until light and fluffy, then cover your meringue base with one third of your whipped cream, leaving a little ‘ridge’ around the edge to hold in your filling. Top this with half of your minted berry mixture, half of your hazelnut praline (recipes for both below) and half of your shaved chocolate. Cover this with a little more cream (to act as an adhesive for your next meringue), then place your other meringue disc on top.

Top your meringue with as much of the remaining whipped cream as you like, your remaining minted berry mixture, hazelnut praline, shaved chocolate and reserved whole cherries. I like to let some shaved chocolate and praline fall haphazardly on the plate’s rim. Add on your reserved mint leaves to garnish, then you’re all done. Serve generous slices as everyone’s sure to lick the plate.

Minted Berry filling:

  • 2 heaped tbsps black cherry jam (my favourite is Bonne Maman Cherry Preserve)
  • 200g fresh pitted black cherries (pitted and halved)
  • 250g punnet of fresh strawberries
  • One bunch of fresh mint (equivalent to 1/2 cup shredded leaves)

Place your cherry jam into a medium sized bowl. Add in the topped, halved strawberries (or quartered, depending upon the size of the fruit), pitted and halved cherries and shredded mint. Mix well and allow to macerate for at least an hour. If your fruit start to bleed and juice collects in the bottom of your bowl, don’t worry… this is normal. You can either serve the berries and juice as is, allowing some of the trickling dark juices to penetrate the meringue, or if preferred, strain your minted fruit and then reduce the remaining liquid in a saucepan (over high heat, allow mixture to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the fluid reaches a jammy consistency). Place your strained fruit on either layer of cream and drizzle a little reduced liquid as desired. I like option two, but remember to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if the concentrated juices are too richly sweet…  your meringue will be sweet enough.

Hazelnut Praline:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 1-2 tbsp of cold water

Place your hazelnuts on a baking tray and lightly toast them in the oven until you can see the skins start to loosen. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool to the touch, wrap the nuts in a dry tea towel to form a ‘parcel’. Rub them vigorously to remove the skins. Any remaining skin should be easily removable with your hands or a blunt knife. Coarsely chop half of the nuts, leaving the other half whole. Place them on a baking-paper-lined tray.

Place the caster sugar in a shallow pan with the cold water, then agitate (I mean, move the pan about) until the water coats most of the sugar crystals. Cook over medium heat, stirring for five minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, then bring mixture to the boil. Boil without stirring for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn reddish gold. When this happens, even if it’s just in one corner, remove the pan from the heat and then agitate the mixture until the golden colour spreads throughout all of the liquid. You’ve just made a basic wet caramel (as opposed to dry caramel, which is made just by melting sugar crystals).

Allow mixture to cool slightly (any bubbles should subside), then pour your caramel over the prepared hazelnuts, covering them as evenly as possible. Allow to cool. Once the mixture solidifies, you can either break it into shards or as I do, coarsely chop it to scatter over your finished pavlova. Any leftover praline shards are delicious eaten on their own with coffee, or crumbled, to scatter generously over ice-cream.

Notes for a perfect Pavlova:

If you’ve developed a habit of producing meringue failures (or literal ‘flops’… haha I am so funny) then read on right here for troubleshooting tips:

  • Before you start, make sure that your bowl, whisk or beaters are completely clean, dry and free of grease. Any trace of oil, grease or moisture could be enough to prevent your egg whites from aerating.
  • Use fresh eggs, separate them when cold and then allow them to come to room temperature before whisking. From prior experience I’ve found that fresh eggs separate much better than older ones and have less obvious water content. They’re also a lot more stable once whisked, which makes them easier to work with when building your meringue disc.
  • If you get any eggshell or yolk in your mixture of whites, discard them and start again. This seems harsh, but any traces of yolk can spoil the composition of your whisked eggwhites, preventing your meringue from setting properly.
  • Make sure that all of your sugar is completely dissolved during the whisking process. Undissolved sugar will cause ‘weeping’, or beads of moisture to form on the meringue. A trick to tell if your sugar is dissolved is to rub a little bit of the uncooked meringue between your fingers – if you can feel any granules, keep whisking.
  • The addition of acid (including vinegar, lemon juice, citric acid) helps to stabilise your meringue, and makes the meringue ‘foam’ much less likely to suffer from the effects of overbeating (separation of the water from solids, meringue collapse, lumpiness). In other words, acid is good. Cornflour plus acid is even better.
  • For expanding the recipe: basic composition of a meringue is 55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar for each egg white. I play around with this a little but if you’re new to making meringues, use this as a guide.
  • If you’re worried about your meringue collapsing, use a palette knife to draw furrows around the edge. This will help support the edges of your pavlova to prevent it cracking and collapsing.
  • You can make meringues a couple of days in advance. Store them in an airtight container, away from heat and moisture, before use.

P.S. Apologies for the noticeable lack of images containing the entire filled pavlova. Unfortunately I assembled it at night and then made various attempts to photograph it under a range of artificial light sources. Epic fail, to say the least. So… if you want to see the full beauty of this mint, berry and cream laden mound of chocolate deliciousness, you’ll just have to make one yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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