Last week I developed a brief fixation on eggs as my ingredient of choice for baking with. I don't know why, but I couldn't get thoughts of whipping up egg whites into voluminous meringue out of my head. Oh, and coffee cake. I had a lot of thoughts about coffee cake too. I have no idea why - perhaps it's the way that Pavlova feels like the perfect Summery dessert - perhaps it's my pregnant body craving the protein that eggs give. And yet, the yolk is most full of protein, so it wouldn't make sense to remove them, if protein was what my body needed. Anyhow, I wanted to bake with eggs, and so I made an enormous chocolate pavlova on Friday to share with friends who were joining us for dinner.

So, I set to work, separating 6 egg whites from their yolks, and whisking them into a frenzy. I love the way egg whites transform from a gooey, runny mess, into an enormous white mountain of fluff that looks good enough to bounce on, in just a matter of minutes.
The addition of chocolate chunks to the meringue mix adds a lovely gooeyness and extra surprise when you bite through the lightly crunchy outer layers, to be greeted by little chunks of chocolate deliciousness. Of course, if you didn't want chocolate in your meringue, just leave them out, but chocolate felt like another necessity on Friday too, so I ran with it.
This dessert is completed with the addition of strawberries that have been gently macerated in balsamic vinegar and just a touch of caster sugar. The vinegar helps to draw out the natural sweetness of the strawberries. Trust me, it's true. Black pepper has the same effect, which I find equal parts brilliant and astounding.
6 egg whites
3 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp corn flour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
450g caster sugar

for the topping
500g strawberries
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
250 ml double cream / whipping cream
any other soft fruits that take your fancy
50g dark chocolate

1) Pre-heat the oven to 120C / gas mark 1/2 / 250f
2) Draw a 12 inch circle on a piece of baking parchment to serve as a size guide for the meringue, and place on a large baking tray.
3) In a large bowl (stainless steel is preferable), beat the egg whites until they become foamy (about 30 seconds).
4) Add the white wine vinegar, then continue to whisk the whites until soft peaks form.
5) Very gradually, add the sugar while whisking. It is important to give the sugar crystals enough time to disperse, as this affects the final consistency of the meringue.
6) After about 3 minutes, glossy peaks should form. Next, beat in the vanilla extract.
7) Very gently, fold the cocoa and cornflour into the meringue mixture until combined or marbled, depending on how you would like your meringue to look.
8) Gently fold in the chocolate chunks.
9) Pour the meringue mix onto the parchment paper, and use the back of a metal spoon to make a nest in the middle, creating an edge that will contain the cream and fruit.
10) Bake in the preheated oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off, but leave the pavlova inside with the door of the oven ajar, so that the meringue can continue gently cooking as it cools. Leave for about 3 hours.
11) Now comes the fun part of adding whatever toppings you would like! I melted 50g chocolate and drizzled it over the meringue, then added whipped cream, grapes and strawberries. Feel free to ad lib at this point and add raspberries, white chocolate, yoghurt, or anything you fancy.