If you've ever had a meringue, then you know how ethereal it can be. But combine it with cream and ripe strawberries and you have an exquisite dessert. Eton Mess takes these ingredients and jumbles them together in a mess, hence the name. The dessert hails from England's famous Eton College. As the story goes, it was either created by cheeky boys who mixed all their desserts together—and one day it happened to be strawberries, cream, and meringue—or it was invented by a crafty shopkeeper at the local food shop. However the dessert was founded, I'm glad it was invented in the first place.
I'm a big sucker for desserts with whipped cream and I'm a big fan of British desserts like trifle, so Eton Mess is easy for me to adore. The traditional way of making this "mess" is to mix all the ingredients together, but I like to layer the dessert so you can see the berries through the glass. I also tend to use more cream than other recipes specify, making this a very plush dessert. There's nothing like billowy clouds of cream enveloping crunchy cookie bits and sweet, mushy berries in this easiest and most pleasing of desserts.
After the haul of strawberries I made last week from Jones' Farm, I had to find a way to eat my surplus. Eton Mess was the first idea that came to mind. It really takes no time at all to put together and it disappears in just a few minutes too. I add sugar to the berries to lend sweetness and help bring out the natural liquid. I also add a bit of vinegar, which is an Italian trick that works extremely well in heightening the berry flavor. For the assembly, I highly suggest using store-bought meringues. I can make meringues just as fine as the next baker, but I won't try making them in humid whether. They simply won't turn out well. And don't use whipped cream in the can. It will not hold up in this dessert. Whipping your own cream is the best option and it tastes much better in the end.
Eton Mess1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup superfine sugar
6 store-bought meringue cookies
mint sprigs, for garnish
Combine strawberries, honey, and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Let macerate for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the heavy cream. Add the vanilla and gradually add the confectioners' sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.
Crumble the meringues and fold them into the whipped cream.
Alternatingly fill the parfait glasses with the macerated strawberries and the meringue and whipped cream mixture. Top with any remaining stawberries and garnish with mint sprigs. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.