Freedom of the mess
Few dishes have a name as honest as this. It looks a mess and there’s no point trying to avoid that.
The only way to dress it up is to smash a meringue over the top, which also adds a lovely bit of texture. In some ways it’s not so different to pavlova, if the pavlova had been sat on. Which is what a lot of food in restaurants looks like at the moment.
Eton mess comes from the same family as trifle but the two are not to be confused. Trifle is disgusting. It usually contains jelly, sponge and alcohol, in wildly varied proportions. For this reason, no two trifles are alike. But that doesn’t mean any of them are good.
What’s nice about Eton mess is that it is so humble, despite coming from the most pompous of origins – it was initially made for a cricket match at the British public school of the same name. I would challenge anyone who can find a dessert that is simpler to make.
To speed things up a bit, and if you don’t mind cheating, I suggest buying meringues from your local bakery. Recently I’d forgotten I had invited people to dinner, and I ran up the street in the hope I could get away with it. Eton mess came to me in the aisle between “bread and cakes” and “fruit and veg”.
Traditionally this would be made with strawberries. I prefer raspberries for the tartness, which offsets the sweetness of the meringues. Out of season, frozen raspberries would work just fine.
My greatest tip, though, would be to substitute half the cream with natural yoghurt or crème fraîche. It’s the best way to fight the boarding school sweetness.
– meringues (recipe below)
– 3 punnets (375g) blackberries
– 1½ tbsp castor sugar
– 1½ cups cream
– 1½ tbsp icing sugar
– 1½ cups natural yoghurt
First make the meringues.
Cut the blackberries in half. Mix the berries with the castor sugar in a bowl and set them aside to get “juicy”.
Lightly beat the cream in a bowl with a whisk, or an electric beater, until it begins to thicken.
Add the icing sugar and continue to beat until the cream is very stiff.
Stir the yoghurt with a whisk to smooth out any lumps then fold it into the whipped cream.
Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Roughly crumble the meringues into largish pieces.
To serve, pile equal amounts of yoghurt cream, berries and crushed meringue pieces into serving dishes and spoon any remaining berry juices over the top.
This recipe may make more meringues than you need for this dish but they keep well in an airtight container.
– 4 egg whites
– pinch salt
– 240g castor sugar
Preheat the oven to 140°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Whip the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are beginning to form. Slowly add half the sugar, whisking well between additions, until the meringue is glossy and stiff. Fold the remaining sugar into the meringue.
Place large spoonfuls of the meringue onto the baking tray and cook for about one hour, or until the meringue is crisp and peels easily from the baking paper.
Leave to cool for a few minutes before removing them from the baking tray and placing them on a wire rack to cool.
2015 Braida Brachetto d’Acqui, Piedmont, Italy ($45) – Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 11, 2017 as "Blackberry mess". Subscribe here.