Eton Mess is a lovely, versatile dessert: It's light, yet very satisfying, and appeals to both young and sophisticated palates. Traditionally made with strawberries, it takes advantage of seasonal fruit and can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. Served in bowls, it makes a nice casual family dessert or spoon it into vintage champagne glasses as a elegant finale to a fine dinner.
But how does it taste? Consider this: the sweet-tartness of strawberries surrounded by lush, cool whipped cream and punctuated by crunchy-chewy bits of crumpled meringue. The perfect marriage of taste and texture, especially if you've found a source for ruby red local berries.
Eton Mess is a classic British dessert or pudding, said to have been first created when a dog accidentally sat on a picnic hamper. Obviously, that's the mess part. The Eton part comes from the fact that it is the traditional dessert served at Eton College's picnic celebration on *gasp* the last Wednesday in May!
Many Eton Mess recipes call for homemade meringues and you can certainly go there it you want. But I was very happy with a store bought version, specifically a tub of Trader Joe's Vanilla Meringues. It's also traditional to use strawberries but it's worth experimenting with other fruits such as raspberries, blueberries, passionfruit, currants, blackberries...
1 quart of strawberries, hulled and sliced into thick chunks
A few tablespoons of sugar
1 pint whipping cream
12-15 Trader Joe's Vanilla Meringues, or any other smallish (2") meringues
Toss the strawberries in the sugar and set them aside to macerate for at least one hour, up to eight hours.
Whip the cream until it starts to thicken. You don't want to whip it until it is stiff--it should hold soft peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl.
Reserve about 1 cup of berries for the garnish and fold the remaining berries (with all their delicious juice) into the whipped cream with a few light strokes. Crumple the meringues into the bowl, making sure to have some chunks and some fine powder.
Fold the mixture gently a few more times. You don't want to deflate the cream.
Serve in bowls or pretty stemmed glasses, garnishing the top with the reserved berries for a lovely bright red splash.
Let the Brits show you how its done:
Marco Pierre White, about 2 minutes in
(Images: Dana Velden)