This is the pavlova my dreams are made of. Thin crispy meringue exterior with a soft chewy centre, seasonal berries – in this case bubble-gummy wild strawberries – Chantilly cream, and from my dreamland, the surprising guest appearance of cloud-spongy homemade marshmallow. I want you to share this dream – it’s a good one.
Preheat the oven to 130oC/250oF/gas 1⁄2. Whisk the egg whites and a pinch of sea salt in a free-standing electric mixer until they form stiff peaks, then with the mixer still running, very gradually and carefully add the sugar, turn to the highest setting and leave to mix for 8 minutes, or until fully dissolved (rub a pinch of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger – if it feels smooth you’re good to go). Line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper, then draw a 24cm circle on each sheet of paper. Divide the mixture between the two sheets and spread it out to just inside your circles, then use the back of the spoon to flick up peaks and make troughs in the mixture to give you free-form, rustic meringues that are also elegant and delicate. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, then turn the oven off, leaving the meringues in there until the oven is cool.
When you’re ready to assemble the pavlova, make your magnificent marshmallow. As soon as it’s made, divide in big beautiful spoonfuls between the two meringues before it sets, being mindful to spoon in between the lovely peaks and wisps of meringue, so it’s as pretty as possible. At this point, identify the dreamiest meringue and put the scruffier one onto a cake stand to form the base of your pavlova.
Put the most perfect-looking half of your berries to one side, then place the other half in a bowl (removing any stalks). Add the lemon juice, sugar and balsamic, toss together and leave to macerate for 10 minutes while you make the Chantilly cream. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape all the seeds into a large bowl with the sugar. Pour in the cream and whisk by hand until it forms soft peaks (all elegance will be lost if you overwhip the cream – if anything, underwhip it), then fold in the yoghurt.
Spoon three-quarters of the cream into the centre of the base meringue and carefully smooth it out to the edge, trying not to completely cover the marshmallow. Spoon over the macerated berries and juices, then place the second meringue on top. Dot over the remaining cream in between the marshmallow and meringue wisps, then sprinkle with the reserved berries. Pick a few baby mint leaves over the top, and serve.