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Eton mess

Whether its creation was a happy accident or divine design, this thoroughly English dessert is heaven in a bowl.

By Alice Storey & Emma Knowles
  • Serves 10
  • 35 mins preparation
  • 50 mins cooking plus cooling, standing
Eton mess
Eton mess

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.

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 this time of year. 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 elements are piled high in a beautiful glass serving bowl, this classic dessert makes the perfect sweet finish for late-summer entertaining.

Ingredients

  • 750 gm strawberries, quartered, plus extra to serve
  • 110 gm (½ cup) caster sugar
  • 200 ml thickened cream, lightly whisked
  • 125 gm crème fraîche
  • 55 gm (½ cup) pure icing sugar, sieved
  • Scraped seeds of ½ vanilla bean
  • 125 gm raspberries
Meringues
  • 100 gm eggwhite (about 3 eggs)
  • 100 gm caster sugar
  • 100 gm pure icing sugar, sieved
  • 15 gm cornflour

Method

  • 1
    For meringues, preheat oven to 120C. Whisk eggwhite and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until firm peaks form (3-4 minutes). With motor running, gradually add caster sugar and whisk until thick and glossy (2-3 minutes). Sieve icing sugar and cornflour over, fold to combine, then spoon 8cm-diameter mounds onto oven trays lined with baking paper. Bake until meringues lift easily from trays and are crisp but not coloured (45-50 minutes), then turn off oven and cool completely in oven.
  • 2
    Meanwhile, toss strawberries and caster sugar in a large bowl to combine, then set aside until juices begin to seep (20 minutes).
  • 3
    Whisk cream, crème fraîche, icing sugar and vanilla seeds together in a separate large bowl until soft peaks form. Scatter a quarter of the strawberries in the base of a 3-litre serving bowl, spread with a quarter of the cream mixture, and coarsely crumble a quarter of the meringue over the top. Repeat layering with remaining ingredients.
  • 4
    Scatter Eton mess with raspberries and extra strawberries and serve.