When I first heard about a dessert named Eton Mess, my interest was certainly piqued. What's the Eton and what's the Mess? As it turns out, it actually translates into something incredibly simple. The dessert is a tumble of fresh strawberries, fresh whipped cream and crumbled meringue. And apparently it's something that's served in the dining hall at Eton, the centuries old English boy's boarding school and producer of prime ministers.
The textures and flavors are all in balanced proportions. The shatter of crispy sweet meringue, the tart acidity of the strawberries and the soft clouds of whipped cream are a wonderful swirl of enjoyment on the palate. So while it may seem like a messy arrangement, I say go ahead and take a basket of strawberries that are in abundance now, create this English trifecta and enjoy the simple pleasures of summer.
- Egg whites will whip with greater volume if they are at room temperature. To start, whip the whites with a pinch of salt until they are foamy and opaque. For a stable meringue, slowly add the sugar a little bit at a time and then keep whipping until they are glossy and form a stiff peak without slumping over. If the meringue starts to look dry and grainy and begins to separate, you've gone too far.
- If you dollop the meringue instead of piping, use a spoon to spread it out to about a 1/2" thickness.
- The meringues can be made a couple of days ahead and stored in an airtight container layered with parchment or wax paper. In humid climates, meringues should be used the same day.
- Assemble the dessert right before serving to preserve the crispness of the meringue. For presentation on a table, rather than plating, assemble in layers in a glass serving bowl.
- Raspberries or apricots or any tart fruit would also make a nice Eton Mess.
Makes about 6 servings
2 egg whites @ room temperature
1/2 C sugar
3 T pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 lb fresh strawberries
3 - 4 T sugar, to taste
1 C heavy cream
1 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla
For the meringue, preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.
Whip egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy and opaque. Slowly add sugar and continue whipping until the meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Pipe or dollop 3" discs of meringue onto prepared baking sheet. Press the pistachios onto the surface.
Bake the meringues until crisp and dry, about 2 hours. Turn off the oven and let the meringues continue to dry in the oven for another 1/2 hour, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.
Hull and slice the strawberries and toss with sugar, to taste. Let them macerate for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to distribute the juices.
Whip the heavy cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. To serve, dollop each plate with a thin layer of whipped cream and then distribute the berries. Garnish with a few more dollops of whipped cream. Break the discs of meringue into bite-sized pieces and garnish each plate. Serve immediately.