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Have I ever told you how much I love meringue? Especially those lovely individual meringues that are just barely sweet, crispy on the outside, and still a touch sticky in the middle – yumm!
My meringue love affair started during a year I spent living in Moscow, Russia. If my memory serves me, pretty much every bakery there carries individual, expertly cooked meringues, called beze in Russian. Of course, they make the perfect, slightly sweet accompaniment to a strong cup of Russian tea. I think I must have eaten a beze a day!
Fast forward a couple years (actually, a couple decades 😉 ), and I still love meringues – and anything made with meringue, for that matter. So imagine my delight when I discovered the oh-so-simple, meringue based dessert, Eton Mess.
This is a dessert from England, and the story goes that it originated at Eton College where it was served at the annual cricket match against the pupils of Harrow School. A lovely embellishment of the story says it was invented when a dog, specifically a Labrador, happened to sit on a strawberry pavlova during a match, crushing the meringue. The cricket players didn’t care a bit, and happily ate the crushed meringue and strawberries! Whatever the true story – it’s delicious!
Traditionally, Eton Mess is made with crumbled meringues, strawberries, and whipped cream – how can you go wrong with a combo like that! Today, Eton Mess has branched out from its original strawberries and cream roots, and you can find all varieties from apple and cinnamon, to caramel and nuts, to chocolate and cherry.
The video and recipe here are for the traditional variety of Eton Mess, but you can make it with any combination of crumbled meringue, fruit, and a sauce or cream. If you scroll down the page a bit, you’ll see a variation I came up with using a prepared lemon curd (which was delivered to my door from the fine folks at Try The World), crème anglaise, and pomegranate seeds. You can make yours with whatever your heart desires!
It’s a shame that here in the US, meringues aren’t particularly common. Fortunately, they are easy-peasy to make. I’ve included a basic recipe for you to try, but if you happen to have a source for good quality, store bought meringues, you could whip this dessert up in just a few minutes.
Eton Mess – the recipe
What you need for 1 individual Eton Mess:
- 1 or 2 prepared meringues (store bought, or see recipe below)
- 1/2 cup chopped strawberries, tossed with sugar to taste; or any chopped fruit, pureed fruit, or other delicious fruitiness that you love
- 1/2 cup whipped cream (store bought, or see recipe below); or a generous drizzle of crème anglaise or your favorite dessert sauce
What to do:
Crumble the meringues. Layer the crumbled meringue in a serving dish (a mason jar is especially cute) with the strawberries and whipped cream – messy is good! No need to try to create perfect layers – just throw it in there! That’s it!
Enjoy with gusto!
Optional extra goodies and variations
What you need for about 12 – 2 to 3 inch meringues:
- 3 egg whites (reserve the yolks for some other tasty application, like crème anglaise)
- Pinch cream of tartar
- 150 grams (about 2/3 cup) white sugar
- Tiny splash of vanilla
- Pinch of salt
What to do:
- Preheat your oven to 225°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone mat.
- Place the egg whites in a squeaky clean glass or metal bowl. Add a pinch of cream of tartar. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
- With the mixer running on medium speed, very slowly add the sugar. Turn the mixer to high, and whip until the whites become stiff and glossy, and you can no longer feel sugar granules if you rub a bit between your fingers.
- Add a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt, and continue beating for about a minute longer.
- Use a spoon or a piping bag to dollop the meringue into 2 to 3 inch wide rounds on the prepared sheet pan. I personally like to do this with a spoon – a piping bag just feels too fussy to me.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, turn the heat off, and let the meringues sit in the oven for another 1 hour. Check them for doneness, and remove from the oven to cool completely. You will know they are done when they easily lift off the parchment, and sound hollow with you tap the bottoms.
What you need for about 2 cups whipped cream:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Pinch of sugar
- Dash of vanilla
What to do:
- Most recipes will tell you to put your bowl and whisk in the freezer before making whipped cream. This is probably an excellent idea, however I never bother. I am essentially a lazy cook, and my whipped cream seems to come out beautifully without following this step. So, optional first step – chill your bowl and whisk for 15 to 20 minutes before making your whipped cream. 😉
- Add the heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla to your mixing bowl. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks.
- Keep chilled in the refrigerator until ready for use.
What you need for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup crème anglaise:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds scraped out
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cups sugar, or more if you like it extra sweet
What to do:
- In a small sauce pan, heat the milk, vanilla bean, and seeds until just barely simmering. Remove from the heat to cool slightly. Discard the vanilla bean.
- Prepare a double boiler by adding about 1 inch of water to a small pan. Bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, in a small metal or glass bowl that will fit into the double boiler pan without touching the water, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick, and pale yellow in color.
- Temper the egg mixture by whisking a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the eggs. Repeat until you’ve added about 1/3 of the milk, then slowly whisk in the remainder.
- Place the egg and milk mixture over the pan of simmering water, and cook, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Immediately remove from the simmering pan. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- This luscious sauce is delicious warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Put in on anything from Eton Mess, to brownies, to ice cream, to sticky toffee pudding. Or just eat it with a spoon!