I’ve mentioned in the past that I don’t have a ton of food memories from childhood. I was not the kid that loved to bake or cook, and my family, while open and exposed to lots of cuisine, never revolved around eating. That being said, we went on a family trip to Europe when I was 12 or 13, and I can clearly recall a meal in London where I was first exposed to Eton Mess. I was a fan for life.
Eton Mess is nothing if not aptly named. It is generally believed to have originated in Eton College and is traditionally plated in a style that could easily be described as a mess. It is also f*cking delicious and so simple it verges on being a recipe at all. In its traditional form it consists of pieces of baked meringue, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries. That’s it. Like so much in life, simple is better, and the already classic combination of strawberries and cream is enhanced by the textural variety that the meringue provides. It must be vague longings for summer that have me thinking of this dessert, and why not make it this week?
Nielsen Massey is a company I’ve known and worked with for a long time. They happen to produce amazing vanilla, and gave me some beans to use because they’re nice like that. It was perfect timing, because whipped cream, fresh strawberries, and vanilla is like a dessert holy trinity. I’m using their Madagascar bourbon bean, which I always describe as the classic vanilla flavor profile (think super premium vanilla ice cream). For those that don’t work with fresh beans often, be sure to keep them stored at room temp. (tightly sealed) rather than in the cooler. I show how to split and scrape one in the method below.
My recipe for whipped cream calls for a little gelatin, which stabilizes the cream and allows it to stay firm for longer periods of time at room temp. This is an optional addition to the recipe, but if you ever serve whipped cream in a warm environment, consider giving it a try.
Obviously having perfectly ripe strawberries is the best way to enjoy this dish, and if you happen to have some I would do nothing at all to them accept cut them and add them to the dessert. If you have strawberries that are less than perfect you have a few options. You could not use them, and substitute a different berry (although the most classic version of Eton Mess uses strawberries, there are plenty of variations and no law against using something else). You could also take your not-super-awesome strawberries and macerate them, in order to slightly sweeten and soften the berries, which is what we’ll do for this recipe.
In terms of meringue, the big rule to remember is low and slow. Just like bbq. It’s easy to apply too much heat to meringue while it bakes, causing it to yellow in color, like when using a home oven that doesn’t have a sophisticated system for maintaining temp. Yellowish meringue is fine to eat, just not as pretty to look at, so try to keep the temp. low and plan to bake the meringue for as much as a few hours.
This meringue has a very large ratio of sugar to water in it, even before adding the powdered sugar, so don’t be afraid to really whip the hell out of it to stiffen it, especially if you want to pipe it into a specific shape before baking. The quantity of sugar will stabilize the water present in the egg whites and help prevent the meringue from splitting due to over whipping.
stabilized whipped cream
470g heavy cream
60g powdered sugar
5g vanilla extract
3g gelatin 160 bloom
Hydrate the gelatin in cold water and reserve it to use later.
Warm 100g of the heavy cream to room temperature.
Melt the bloomed gelatin and mix it into the warm heavy cream until homogenized, then whisk the mixture into the cold cream.
Sift the powdered sugar and add it to the cold heavy cream with the vanilla extract and warm heavy cream mixture. Whisk well until fully homogenized.
Allow the heavy cream mixture to chill in the cooler until thickened, min. 2hrs.
Whip the heavy cream as needed until stiff.
120g strawberries about 7 small strawberries
1 vanilla bean Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon
4g lemon juice
Clean the strawberries by twisting of their greens and then carefully cutting the stem membrane from the berry. Cut the berries into quarters.
Carefully split the vanilla bean by using a filet-style cut down its length.
Use the blade of your knife to gently scrape the vanilla pulp from the bean.
Toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. I use a strawberry to clean the vanilla pulp off of the knife blade (instead of the side of your mixing bowl).
Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30-40min.
Alternately, place the covered mixing bowl in the refrigerator and allow to rest overnight.
160g egg whites
1g cream of tartar
6g vanilla extract
107g powdered sugar
Combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a stand mixer with a whip attachment.
Add half of the sugar to the egg whites, and whisk on medium speed until it has developed a foam with no clear egg white still visible.
Add the second half of sugar and whisk on high speed until the meringue is very stiff.
Sift the powdered sugar and add it and the vanilla extract to the meringue, folding gently until fully incorporated.
Spread the meringue evenly on a sheet pan lined with greased parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. I start by spreading the meringue (works for batter too) vertically along the center of the sheet pan, the spreading it to each side. Finally I go corner to corner around the pan to smooth and further even out the meringue.
Technically you could toss everything together and serve a perfectly acceptable Eton mess. I am showing steps below if you ever wanted to serve it as a more composed plated desert.
Place a dollop or quenelle of stabilized whipped cream on the plate.
Plate the macerated strawberries.
Plate the meringue. I place them close to the strawberries to ensure some crunch in every bite.