The Eton mess, one of England's best-loved and prettiest desserts, is an absolute joy to eat. Its sublime proportions of crumbled crisp meringue, softly whipped cream and marinated strawberries don't need further embellishment - the beauty of this delicate dessert is in its simplicity.
There are many tales about the origins of Eton mess: one involves an excited labrador sitting on a pavlova at an Eton ceremony; another, a bumpy car ride muddling a strawberry and meringue dessert en-route to an Eton cricket match. Better authority on the matter comes from food historians Robin Weir and Caroline Liddell. In their book Recipes from the Dairy, they write that this most British of British desserts originated at Eton's mess hall in the 1930s. Back then it was served as a bowl of bananas or strawberries mixed with ice-cream or cream. The meringue was a later addition - and a very good one at that.
It's not an Eton mess without meringues, and the trick to making great meringues is patience. To ensure a perfect crisp crust, always leave them to cool in the oven after baking. And if you can avoid the temptation to eat them on their own, you can always make the meringues in advance: they'll keep for a few days stored in an airtight container.
In our recipe, we've used raspberries as well as strawberries. This sort of dessert is open to flavour variations, so be creative and use whatever fruit is most fragrant at the time. Apricots would be wonderful, as would plums, and any type of berry is good at Christmas time. And for a lovely fresh, slightly tart note, we've added a little crème fraîche to the whipped cream.
Whether they're folded or layered, when all the Eton mess elements are piled high in a beautiful glass serving bowl, this classic dessert makes the perfect sweet finish for late-summer entertaining.
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