Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eton Mess & Meringues

Eton Mess. Weird name. Weird dessert really. Mushed up strawberries, whipped cream and crushed meringue cookies. Tossed together no less. It really is a mess. But a pretty delicious one at that.

Apparently Eton Mess has been around for a long time. The Brits love it and it is named after Wills and Harry's alma mater, Eton College. It can be served with a variety of fruits but the Brits seem to cherish tradition, so it is usually made with strawberries.

Jamie Oliver has some interesting takes on it, adding raspberries or rhubarb to the mix. I can imagine that sauteed blueberries would also be an amazing addition to this dessert.

The meringue cookies that you make for this dessert have multiple variations- you can make them plain as for this dessert or if you want them on their own, you can flavour them with rosewater, citrus zest, cocoa or almost anything else your heart desires.

The meringues take a few minutes working time and a long time in the oven. You can make them in the evening, and turn off the oven before bed and leave them in overnight to cool. This recipe is pretty foolproof anyways- you are going to be throwing it in a bowl with whipped cream and strawberries so you really can't go wrong!

Meringue and Meringue Cookies
If you don't have time for the eggs to come to room temperature, soak the eggs in warm water for a few minutes before proceeding. Although I love Jamie O, I really love crisp French meringues a bit better than his gooey ones. So this uses less egg white and a longer baking time to achieve that. If you like them a little gooey in the middle, take them out after about an hour. Just want meringue cookies? This recipe can be enhanced with various flavourings added at the end. My personal favourite is a teaspoon or two of rosewater. Other suggestions include a few tablespoons of cocoa, lemon or orange zest.

4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup superfine or caster sugar, or regular sugar whizzed in the blender or food processor for a few minutes ( I used this method with organic cane sugar and had great results)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Beat egg whites in a very, very clean bowl on high speed until stiff peaks form. This should take a few minutes. Jamie Oliver says to hold it over your head to see if it falls on you. If it does, you may need to start over.
3. Add sugar and beat for another 8 minutes or so. The peaks should be glossy and there should be no graininess at all.
4. Spoon onto parchment-covered baking sheets. You can make two or three big rounds (6-8") or a bunch of smaller ones. Bake for at least 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off oven and let cool in oven for at least half an hour or overnight.
5. When fully cooled, keep in a covered container until ready to use. If they are baked until completely dry, apparently they can last for months but we could never get these to last that long in our house. This makes enough for a few extra cookies to be enjoyed on their own- you have to taste test, no?

Eton Mess
This is a little like fingerpainting, and it is fun to make a mess!

2-3 cups sliced strawberries
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
*optional: 1 tbsp chopped mint

2 cups whipping or heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

meringue cookies (about 2 large rounds)

1. Mix together strawberries, sugar, mint and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Whip cream until light and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat for another minute or so. Take at least half the strawberries and crush them with your hands and add them to the cream. Fold in with a spatula.
3. In a large clear bowl, crush part of a meringue and layer on bottom of bowl. Add strawberry cream and repeat layers. Top with more crushed meringue and some of the reserved strawberries. Voila! Eton Mess!