With the strawberry bushes nearing their ability to offer the ruby gems I regularly nibble on while I am out in the garden or sitting on the garden porch, it can sometimes be hard to take time to put this berry fruit into a recipe (because I’ve usually eaten most of them ☺️); however, the simplicity of the traditional English dessert, an Eton Mess is hard to pass up, and as I was traveling during the end of this year’s British Week for a book signing, I wanted to share a recipe that while quintessentially English and incorporated items that can be found during the spring season at the farmers market, was also especially easy. As well, this is a recipe most American bakers are less familiar with, so I thought it would be fun to explore.
Enter the Eton Mess!
And while the actual mess is actually, after researching for this post, in the true genesis of the recipe. That made me all the more curious to explore it and share with you all during this year’s British Week (see at the end of the post past British Week’s spotlight recipes – last year’s was a hit!) There is not one agreed upon truth regarding the history of the Eton Mess, but all seem plausible, and one is even that this isn’t an English dessert at all, but from New Zealand and Australia! So . . . hmmm . . .
One story, to my ears, makes complete sense. The creation of the recipe was a happy accident. The original recipe of strawberry, meringue and cream pudding was unintentionally dropped during a cricket match between Eton and Harrow in the 19th century. Instead of tossing the delicious ingredients, an Eton Mess came to be! However, this continues to be debated.
No matter what the true history is, an Eton Mess is a Delicious Triumph and involves very few ingredients. I am in!
The most difficult part I found was the making of the meringue to hold its shape in stiff peaks after the caster sugar had been added; however, even if it doesn’t hold its shape as you prepare to put dollops of it in the oven (on a parchment lined baking sheet), they will still be delicious as you break them up into pieces and add them to the “Mess”. The crunchiness of the meringue is what I love biting into while the creaminess and sweet ripe strawberry all complement each other quite well.
And speaking of the meringues, while I was visiting London for the first time in 2012, one regular item I saw in the local neighborhood bakeries in Maida Vale were freshly made meringues for pavlovas and anything that asked for a meringue. If you have the luxury of knowing a bakery that does just this, don’t spend two hours making your own (unless you want to, because it is quite easy once you have fresh eggs). Just purchase from your baker, support your local bakery and trot home to make a very simple and dependably delicious dessert for the spring season.
Alternatively, some recipes swap the strawberries for bananas, so choose the fruit you prefer!
Other than not being able to perfect my meringue game just yet, I went about making this recipe and love it. So grab the freshest strawberries you can find, as well as the freshest eggs, heavy cream, powdered sugar (along with the aforementioned caster sugar) and you are about to enjoy a simple, fruity sweet treat.
Key Tips for Success
- Use the freshest eggs you can find. There is contrary opinions on this as older eggs do foam up more quickly, but this is the key part, older eggs have weaker proteins and thus are not sturdy and do not hold their shape which is what you want when making meringues.
- Because you are using fresh eggs, it will take longer for the foaminess to begin. Have patience. It will happen, and your egg whites will be firm and capable of holding structure.
- Don’t hesitate to go buy meringues from your trusted bakery. It will save two hours of baking time (and cooling time).
- 2 large egg whites or 3 medium egg whites
- 120 grams caster/grantulated sugar (or 4 ounces)
- 500 grams fresh strawberries, prepped, core removed and roughly chopped (about 1 lb)
- 450 ml heavy cream (double cream), or about 1 pint
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar/icing sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
Making the Meringues
- If you are choosing to make the meringues (many bakeries have their own, just do your best to purchase freshly made, so they are terribly hard all the way through, and only on the exterior), follow these instructions.
- Heat the oven (convection or fan) to 225 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100-120 celsius). Let the oven preheat while you make the meringue.
- Whisk the egg whites either by hand with a whisk or with a hand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk until stiff peaks form.
- Add the caster/granulated sugar gradually to the egg whites, mixing in a little at a time until stiff peaks form each time. This may take some time. Be sure to use the freshest eggs you can find. While they will take longer to whip the proteins of the egg whites into a foam, when the foam finally does form, it is firmer and more stable. In other words, keep whisking (this is where a hand mixer or mixing stand becomes the favorite kitchen tool in your kitchen ☺️).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment and using a large spoon, place large dollops of the meringue on the parchment. Create peaks so you have texture (but even if your meringue is not as stiff as you would like, cook them anyway. they will still taste amazing).
- Bake on the lowest rack in your oven (make sure it is on fan or convection oven) for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. The test to determine if they are done – they are sold – entirely firm and easily come off the parchment . Let them cool for at least 30 minutes, but even longer would be helpful as you are going for the crunch that the cooling creates.
- In a small sauce pan add 1/3 of the chopped strawberries, 1 tsp lemon juice, cook over low-medium heat. This called blitzing on many British recipes. You are making the sauce and creating an additional layer of strawberry flavor. This will take time, maybe 7-10 minutes. Be patient. Using a wooden spoon to stir from time to time. You can remove when the consistency you prefer is reached. I wait until while I can still see 'strawberries', they are macerated and quite a bit of juice as been rendered.
- In a separate mixing bowl, add the heavy cream and powdered sugar, whisking until stiff peaks form.
- Gently crush or crumble in rough pieces 1/3 of the meringues and mix with the remaining strawberries. Then add the strawberry sauce and mix gently until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Choose champagne coups or unique clear glass serving dishes so guests can see the ingredients.
- Add a large dollop of the mixture of strawberries, sauce and 1/3 of the meringues to each of the dishes. Fill to near the top.
- Crumble the remaining meringues on top of each Eton Mess serving. Add a freshly chopped strawberry to the top of each dessert if preferred.
- Serve with a spoon and enjoy!
BRITISH-INSPIRED RECIPES FROM PAST BRITISH WEEKS