Eton mess with an Italian twist

Eton Mess is a brilliant quick dessert that is universally loved. It seems timely given the arrival of Princess Charlotte this last weekend to post a summer pud that is both regal and common in equal measure.

I always think of this as M&S Mess because the ingredients can be picked up at pretty much any train station M&S (Marks and Spencer) in the UK on the way home from work, ready for an impromptu dessert. However until M&S are ready to pay me piles of money for my renaming I will keep this between me and you.

I have added a few slightly more grown up options to make this a bit different than the usual recipes. Feel free to leave them out and go old school. Talking of school. Eton Mess got its name because it was first served at a cricket match at Eton College (where William and Harry went along with Dominic West, Damien Lewis and the dreamy Eddie Redmayne). Some sources say that a meringue filled with cream and strawberries got jostled too much on the way to the picnic – resulting in the ‘mess’ we love so much now.

This really isn’t a stressful recipe which is why it is the perfect thing to throw together without much thought when you have friends over in the summer. It can also be thrown together after too many glasses of rose. Always helpful. This is also a great one to make if you have attempted and failed to make a Pavlova or other meringue dish as the meringues here are broken into rough chunks.

Make ahead

Whip the cream ahead of time and keep in the fridge. Chop the strawberries and keep them at room temperature.

The essential ingredients are:

  • Meringue – I like the M&S nests in the UK. Trader Joe’s sell mini vanilla meringues in the US that work a treat. Or feel free to make your own. I don’t.
  • Summer fruit – Strawberries are traditional but I often make this with raspberries or a mixture of raspberries, strawbs and blueberries. This is a good way to use up berries that are on the verge of being a bit too squishy.
  • Whipped clouds of cream – Whipped double cream in the UK. Heavy Whipping Cream in the US. Or use half creme fraiche and half cream. Or all creme fraiche. Never ever use spray cream.

Ingredients (to serve 6 people)

1 pint (570ml) of cream (see above)

1lb (450g) beautifully ripe strawberries or raspberries

2-3 tablespoons of really good balsamic vinegar, the syrupy stuff

6 meringue nests or around 100g of meringue

10 big leaves of basil or mint

To make:

1. If you are being fancy, chop your strawberries in half and put them in a bowl with the balsamic. Give it a good stir and set aside for an hour. If you aren’t being fancy, just chop them in half and leave out the balsamic.

2. Whip your cream until it is soft and thick (if you’re using creme fraiche you can skip this stage). Think soft voluminous folds rather than stiff peaks. I usually whisk mine in my stand mixer but you can use a hand held electric whisk or even a regular whisk if you want an arm work out. Depending on your method and the speed of your device (or arm) this could take 2-5 minutes.

3. While your cream whips, crack the meringues into pieces around the size of a walnut. Set the broken meringue aside. You will get a few bits of collateral damage that are teeny crumbles so don’t stress, you do want a degree of meringue in cream absorption as this will sweeten the cream.

5. Gather your basil leaves together into a pile – one leaf on the top and the others sitting below in a neat pile. Then tear or cut them into small pieces.

6. Stir the basil through the cream using a very gentle touch. You don’t want to knock the air out of the cream. Then very carefully fold the strawberries and their juice into the cream so you have a beautiful ripple of pink running through it. Finally, throw almost all the meringue chunks into the mixture and stir a couple of times.

7. Dollop the mixture onto a platter then scatter the remaining meringue on top. At this stage I usually ferret about a bit and pull a few strawbs and bits of basil to the top to look pretty. Sometimes I drizzle a little balsamic on top too. Serve immediately as the meringue will dissolve if left for long.

Equipment

You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe through my shop. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools.

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