The oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world has just ended and Serena Williams from the U.S. and Novak Djokovic from Serbia are the official champions in the men’s and women’s singles. All of Great Britain, as well as quite a few other countries, are celebrating! And where there is celebrating, there is food! The classics will all be served ….. from cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, to chicken and leek pies, bacon with brie quiches and, of course, Eton Mess ….. all washed down with a refreshing Pimm’s. Strawberries and cream are so classically English, Eton Mess is the perfect summer dessert for any Wimbledon celebration.
This pudding of crushed light-as-air meringue cookies mixed with luscious, seasonal strawberries and rich, sweetened cream is thought to have originated from the famous school of the same name, Eton College. It seems this recipe was not, as legend says, the ‘accidental mess’ created by a dog said to have sat on a picnic basket containing the pavlova which was to be served after the cricket match. The dessert was actually created by the chef at the elite school in the 1930s to be this ‘messy’ sort of pudding. Bananas were the original fruit, but it is traditionally made with strawberries now (although any fruit would work beautifully).
This time of year, it’s all about the strawberries, so, let’s give it a go!
Preparation for meringue cookies:
3 extra large eggs (whites only)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
You can buy meringue cookies at the supermarket which takes a lot of the work out of this recipe (but I just had to make them).
Preheat the oven to 250° and line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer, in a super clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating and then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Don’t rush this – it should take about ten minutes. Add the vanilla. The egg whites should now be very stiff and glossy.
These meringue cookies are going to be broken up into pieces so there’s no need to be careful about spooning them onto the baking sheets. If you want to use a pastry bag and pipe them, feel free. Otherwise, using two spoons drop mounds onto the parchment paper. They won’t spread out, so you can fit quite a few onto one sheet. Makes approximately 18 cookies. Bake for 1-1/2 hours at 250°. Then turn OFF the oven and leave the meringues inside the oven to dry out – two hours or more.
For the pudding
2 lbs. washed, hulled strawberries
4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 pint heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
To prepare in advance, whip the cream and keep refrigerated. About an hour before serving, slice the strawberries and sprinkle with the sugar (more or less to taste) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Let this mascerate while you whip the cream, if you haven’t already done so. Add the sugar and vanilla to the cream and whip until it mounds (but before it becomes butter).
Take half the strawberries and mash up with a fork or potato masher and set aside. Squeeze in a little lemon juice. Break up the meringue cookies and add them to a large bowl. Add the whipped cream and the other half of strawberries . Fold it all together. You can serve this in one large serving bowl, individual bowls or fancy glasses. Spoon the mixture into the serving dishes and top with the mashed strawberries. Garnish and serve!
This recipe will easily make 8 to 12 servings, depending upon the size of each serving. The recipe can be cut in half. Experiment with different fruits if the strawberries are past season. Next time I’m going to try blueberries with white chocolate shavings and toasted almonds! Have fun with it!!
(Tip: don’t make meringue when the air is very humid. They’ll never dry out. I learned the hard way.)
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