Among English desserts, Eton Mess has the marks of a tradition. Traditions often come dressed out in fanciful stories and Eton Mess has one of its own about how it came into being: a Labrador in attendance at an Eton College picnic is supposed to have sat down on a picnic basket containing strawberries and cream, serendipitously creating a new dessert of crushed ‘mess’. The dessert is linked, as well, to two annual events at which people expect it to be served: Eton College’s 4th-of-June prize-giving picnic for students and parents held each year on the last Wednesday of May (sic) and the College’s annual cricket game against Winchester College. And British society is so widely familiar with Eton Mess and its association with Eton College that the dessert’s name is sometimes used in Parliament and in the press as a play on words to criticize the policies of Conservative government leaders–many of whom attended Britain’s oldest public school.
These attributes, however, don’t necessarily recommend Eton Mess as a delicious dessert. It is one. But proof of the pudding is, of course, in the taste. Fortunately, to give this one a personal trial requires only a small investment of time to determine its deliciousness.
Proof of its ease, however, is to be had instantly, with the click of a mouse here in a YouTube video in which a 5-year old chef with winning ways– Mr. Ciaran Crawford of Donegal, Ireland–makes “his favorite dessert”.
A tradition may be observed in a variety of ways and still be within traditional bounds. The diplomatickitchen’s version of Eton Mess is one of these . Another characteristic of traditions is that they may be broken, which in the case of this dessert means trying a substitute for the strawberry. If your longitude and latitude put you in a part of the world where the strawberry isn’t, mixing cream and meringue according to the rules for an Eton Mess with some other fruit will give you an unorthodox–and still very satisfactory–dessert.
Eton Mess (for 6 one-cup servings or 8 generous half-cup servings): the recipe is divided into two parts, I describes making meringues to use in the dessert and II explains how to make the Eton Mess. Skip part I if you prefer to use store-bought meringues.
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF.
I. Making the Meringues: Skip this part of the recipe if you prefer to use store-bought meringues, and go to II: Making the Eton Mess. This recipe makes about 10 large meringues.
A first Note about making meringues: A dry meringue is the result of the evaporation of the moisture in the foamy egg whites as they bake. If the outside of the meringues hardens too quickly, some moisture is trapped inside, the sugar in the mixture dissolves, and a sticky trickle of syrup “weeps’ from the meringue. The center of the meringue may not harden and dry completely. If this happens on occasion, because of a hot oven or a humid day, never mind. It is the work of a moment to take out the sticky part of the meringue, leaving plenty to crush up into an Eton Mess.
A second Note about making meringues: Because of their lengthy baking time, meringues ought to be made a day in advance of using them.
- 5 Egg Whites
- an Electric Mixer: a standing one with a Whisk Attachment and a large Bowl is desirable but not essential
- a Baking Sheet
- a sheet of Parchment Paper to line the Baking Sheet
- an Ice Cream Scoop is a convenient thing to use for placing the uncooked meringues on the Baking Sheet
1. Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. The oven in which the photographed meringues baked was set at 170 F.
2. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Continue to beat and add the sugar.
3. Beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy white.
4. With the ice cream scoop or a large spoon, place mounds of the meringue mixture on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The pictured mounds of meringue are about 1/2-cup sized:
6. Store the meringues in a sealed container lined with paper towels. They prefer being in a cool place.
- 1 pound of fresh Strawberries
- 8 large Meringues, homemade or store-bought
- 2 cups of Heavy Cream
- 4 Tablespoons of Fine White Sugar
- 6 or 8 Whole Strawberries to decorate the finished desserts–one for each glass or ramekin
- a Mixer for whipping the cream: a standing one with a whisk attachment is useful, but not essential
- a Food Processor or Blender for pureeing some of the strawberries
- Glasses or Ramekins for serving the Eton Mess
1. Chop half of the berries and put them in a bowl with 1 Tablespoon of the sugar.
2. Purée the other half of the strawberries with 1 Tablespoon of sugar in a blender or food processor. Reserve 4 Tablespoons of the strawberry purée in a small bowl.
3. Crumble 8 meringues. If, because of the weather or a tricky oven, some of the meringues’ centers are a bit sticky, remove that part, and use the dry part:
4. When it is time for dessert, whip the cream until it forms floppy waves and peaks that don’t move around the bowl easily but, at the same time, aren’t stiff. Whip a little more and add 2 Tablespoons of sugar. 2 Tablespoons of sugar will result in a lightly sweetened cream–add a little more for a sweeter one.
5. Add the crumbled meringues and the chopped berries with their juice to the whipped cream and fold them around in the cream–in a desultory fashion. Do the same with all but 4 Tablespoons of the strawberry purée. The dessert should be streaky with fruit and cream…not homogeneous:
6. If you are decorating the desserts with whole fresh strawberries, remove the stems, cut them in half or in quarters, almost all the way through, and open them out with your fingers. Divide the Eton Mess between the glasses or ramekins, tip a little strawberry purée over each with a small spoon, and decorate with the strawberries. In the photographed ramekins, all the purée has been folded into the Eton Mess…
…In the glasses, it has not:
A Note: Eton Mess is served for Dessert in the Dinner Menu: Dinner in Early Spring.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012