Nigella Lawson Knows What You Should Serve for Dessert This Holiday Season

The cookbook author and host's festive, chocolate-topped chestnut pavlova is the kind of joyful excess we could all use this year—without that much effort.

Chestnut Pavlova
Photo: Photo by Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

This pavlova is just so fabulously festive: an exuberant, rich, and luxurious treat for the holidays. The meringue base is crisp on the outside with a soft marshmallow interior, topped with sweetened chestnut puree (sometimes labeled "chestnut spread;" you need to look out for the Clement Faugier brand), followed by swaths of softly whipped cream and splinters of bitter chocolate.

The combination of chestnut, meringue, cream, and chocolate is a favored one during the holidays in Europe, where it is known as Mont Blanc in France and Monte Bianco in Italy. It is, when made traditionally, a fairly arduous task: First the chestnuts have to be cooked, peeled, pureed, and forced through a ricer over a plate, so that the soft strands of chestnut puree fall into a mountain shape, which is topped and surrounded with bitter chocolate, then dolloped with whipped cream and dusted with a snow of crumbled meringues.

But this chestnut pavlova is—despite appearances—a relatively easy affair. The only complicated part is the meringue base and, provided you stash it in a completely airtight container (I use a cake carrier), it can be made two days in advance. Should you want to take it to eat at a friend's house, you will need to top the pavlova in situ when you arrive. Ideally, you should whip the cream once you're there, but if you use a mixture of cream and mascarpone, it should be fine to whip it in advance. And the chestnut puree comes out of a can! (I should add, too, that a can of this divine nectar is worth the special order and a holiday must-have for me: Spread on toast, or spooned over a croissant, it makes for a sensational breakfast.)

The grated chocolate that tops the pavlova is no mere decoration, so use the best-quality chocolate you can find; it needs to be bitter and intense to contrast with the dizzying sweetness of the meringue and chestnut.

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