Eton Mess: A Recent Introduction to an English Classic

There is nothing like food, in my opinion, to transport you to another place. Whether it is a food memory from a place I’ve been that lodges so deeply in my mind, or whether it is a food that is shared locally by a person from a far off land as an introduction to their culture. Food has a deep and lasting ability to take us somewhere -much more than most anything else.

We shared a meal with friends who moved to Nashville from London this year and the entire meal was inspired by their home place. The dessert Sarah served was Eton Mess. It’s a pavlova mixed all together: meringues, whipped cream and fruit.

We had not heard of this treat before then and we all devoured it and delighted in it. The story behind the dessert is well told by the food genius, Jamie Oliver, in this decade old video. It’s worth a watch.

Basically the story is that Eton, a prestigious school in England, served posh food to their students and one day the cook was preparing to serve a Pavlova (a lovely meringue pillow topped with whipped cream and fruit). As she was transporting it, it fell and crumbled into a mess. The cooks recovered it by scooping it up and serving it, and thus “Eton Mess”!

Sarah made the parts of the dessert with her children and served it up into bowls for our enjoyment- mini meringues, loose whipped cream and strawberries. When we got home we started scheming our attempt to make it! Lucy and I tried making it just like Sarah did, and our mini meringues were good, though we must have done something wrong because some of them were sticky inside. Next, we bought prepared meringues at Trader Joe’s that are much crunchier and of course makes this a very easy dessert.

After searching online for Eton Mess recipes I discovered many variations from famous chefs. The number of twists on this classic (yet unknown to me until this spring) are abundant. These include Ina Garten’s version with raspberries, and Jamie Oliver’s with pears, hazelnuts and chocolate, and Nigella Lawson’s with strawberries.

Seeking to improve my meringue making I discovered Cupcake Jemma’s meringue tips as well as a recipe from Sweetest Menu. I combined these to make meringues- this time full-sized so that we could try them with the broken pieces in the Eton Mess. They were so lovely! We were amazed at the crunchy outside and marshmallowy inside. They were fun to make and approachable!

Eton Mess

Layer whipped cream, coulis, fruit, broken meringues (or mini meringues) layered in a bowl or serving dishes…or put all in a large bowl and stirred together. See instructions for each component below.

Meringues

4 egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar (for stabilizing)

1 heaping cup of sugar (250 grams)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of coarse salt

Clean mixing bowl & whisk attachment with a little distilled white vinegar and a paper towel.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Carefully divide eggs, making sure to not have any trace of yolk. Discard the egg yolks (or save them in the refrigerator to make a key lime pie next).

Mix egg whites and cream of tartar in mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Continue mixing while adding the sugar, spoonful by spoonful, shuffling the sugar into the bowl.  Add in vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Once all the sugar is in, raise the speed and whip until it is glossy and forms stiff peaks, and is no longer gritty. (You can check for the grit by rubbing a dab of the batter between your thumb and finger. If it is still gritty, continue to mix for a few more minutes.)

Using two large spoons, drop mixture onto parchment paper in 2 inch blobs about 2 inches apart from each other, using the second spoon to scrape.

Bake at 300˚ for 25 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave in the oven as it cools, for at least 1 hour.

Whipped Cream

1 pint of whipping cream

¼ cup sugar

Splash of vanilla extract

Place whipping cream in a clean stainless steel or glass bowl.  On high speed, mix whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla and fully incorporate.

Fruit

Dice strawberries, or other fruit (if you are not including a coulis, you will want to sprinkle with sugar and let macerate for at least 30 minutes to sweeten and get the juices flowing.

Fruit Coulis

A lovely fruit sauce to be drizzled into the layers.

Place a cup of fruit, several Tablespoons of sugar, and the juice of half of one lemon into a small sauce pan and cook until the fruit breaks down and a sauce is formed. Let cool (put in the refrigerator if you need to speed the process).

Batch #2 larger meringues and layered rather than mixed together

There are so many compelling reasons to make Eton Mess. You can make the meringue ahead of time (or purchase store bought ones) which makes this quick to put together. The fruit is versatile and can be seasonally inspired. The dessert is gluten free but not lacking. It’s British, which makes everything more lovely!

We are so thankful for being introduced to this special English treat and for having a portal into a culture that is not our own.

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