The name Eton Mess may at first not sound particularly appetizing, but it’s a truly tasty mix of sweet and crunchy meringue, succulent fresh strawberries, fluffy whipped cream, and sweet strawberry syrup – a fantastic mixture of flavors and textures.
You can’t get more quintessentially English than Eton Mess. This dessert’s background story includes aristocrats, cricket, and strawberries. First, it’s named after Eton College in Windsor, England, a boarding school for 13 to 18-year-old boys founded by Henry VI, King of England in 1440. A great many aristocratic and royal boys attend Eton College. In fact, both Prince William and Prince Harry attended Eton (as well as prime minister Boris Johnson). And the dessert’s creation story includes not only Eton, but also Harrow School, another storied boarding school with quite a few aristocratic and/or famous pupils (Winston Churchill, for one).
Legend has it that Eton Mess was accidentally created during a cricket match between Eton and Harrow. The story says a dog sat on or knocked over a pavlova dessert made for the boys’ post-cricket snack. Of course, the dog’s mishap broke the large meringue and mixed all the ingredients together helter-skelter. The boys didn’t mind the dessert’s appearance and ate it anyway. The resulting Eton Mess gained such popularity, it became a staple in the school’s tuck (snack) shop. Whether the legend is true history, this dessert is served to this day at the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match.
You can vary the fruit in the dessert, but it isn’t called Eton Mess then, but whatever fruit is used substituted in place of Eton. Made with bananas, it becomes Banana Mess. We really like the original Eton Mess, though – and hope you do as well. This scrumptious dessert tastes delicious and fresh – just like an English spring.
- 16 oz. strawberries
- ¼ cup sugar (granulated or caster)
- 4 large egg whites
- ½ tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 cup caster sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 4 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Prepare the strawberries: Wash strawberries in a colander.
- Reserving one berry per serving, hull and chop the rest of the strawberries.
- Make the strawberry syrup: Put ¼ of the chopped berries in a bowl with ¼ cup of granulated sugar, covering the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the berry/sugar mixture to sit on the counter while you make and bake the meringues.
- Place the other berries (chopped and whole) in the refrigerator in a covered bowl.
- Make Meringues: Separate egg yolks and egg whites, then put the bowl of egg whites on the counter to warm to room temperature for 10 – 15 minutes. Reserve the egg yolks for another purpose, if you like Key Lime Pie is my favorite use).
- Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a very clean, room temperature bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer, if you're using a stand mixer).
- Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, start whipping the egg white mixture at medium-low until it is frothy, then turn up to medium/medium-high until it expands with air and soft peaks form.
- Finally, increase speed to high, and very gradually add 1 cup sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Whip egg white mixture until it is glossy and can hold stiff peaks.
- Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Drop meringue by the heaping tablespoon on the parchment paper, and leave on the counter to dry for about an hour, or until they feel dry and firm when you touch the meringues. About 15 minutes before the hour is up, preheat your oven to 200/100C.
- Place your cookie sheet in the preheated oven, and bake for an hour, testing for doneness by breaking one open at the end of the time period. If the meringue is crunchy and dry inside as well as outside, your meringues are done. If they are chewy/gooey, leave in the oven for another 15 minutes.
- Then turn off the oven and allow it to cool completely with the meringues inside.
- While the oven cools, whip the cream: Using 1-2 cups of whipping cream, put in another mixing bowl.
- Start whisking (or use your mixer's whisk attachment) the whipping cream until it begins to thicken. Then add 2-4 tbsp. of sugar, continue to beat for a minute.
- Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat until the cream is whipped as firm as you like whipped cream (taking care not to overbeat).
- Assemble the Eton Mess: Crumble meringues, and remove chopped and whole berries from your refrigerator.
- Mash the strawberry/sugar mixture until it's a soupy syrup, but leaving some strawberry chunks.
- Using individual serving dishes, layer whipped cream, strawberry/sugar syrup, meringue crumbles, and chopped strawberries.
- Garnish each serving with a whole strawberry, adding a whole meringue if you like.
- Adjust to taste the amount of sugar added to the strawberries to make the strawberry syrup.
- You can purchase packaged meringues, in which case you won’t need eggs, cream of tartar, salt, and caster sugar, and should skip steps 5-13.
- If you do make the meringues, you will make more than you’ll need for six servings. Leftover meringues make a great snack with tea!
- Adjust to taste the amount of sugar added to the whipping cream, as well as the amount of whipping cream whipped. We use 2 tbsp. of sugar per cup of whipping cream, but some people prefer sweeter whipped cream.
- Also, adjust the amounts of each component to suit your personal taste. Some people enjoy more of the crunch of meringue and less whipped cream, etc.
If you enjoyed this recipe, try our Scottish Shortbread recipe!
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