Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Peachy Eton Mess

This was one of the most heavenly summer desserts I've had recently. So I must apologize for the fact that it looks so wretched. It seems there's a reason they call it a mess.

Eton messes, for the uninitiated, are a sort of British trifle, swapping out broken meringues for the cake, and tossing them with whipped or clotted cream and fresh strawberries. In addition, it's also ridiculously fun to say, the sort of phrase, like "nursery sweet," that makes you feel like Nigella Lawson. And to added British icing on the British cake, it's traditional served at a cricket match!

For my inauthentic version, I replaced the strawberries with peaches, since that's where we are, seasonally (if you want, you toss them in a bit of sweetened white wine to add a boozy high note). I whipped up a batch of meringues, bolstering them with ground almonds to provide a bit of a chew and a nutty counterpoint to the sweet stone fruit. And because peaches-and-cream is something of a cliche (and because I had leftover egg yolks from the meringues), I cooked up a custard instead of the regular whipped cream. Which might make this more of a trifle after all, but I remain steadfast in my love for the name Eton mess. Just say it: Eton mess. Eeeeton messsss....

The one caveat of this recipe is that you've got to eat it quick. The sweet custard and crisp, crumbly, chewy meringues work together perfectly, but within a few minutes they combine to form a melted, syrupy sludge (which isn't quite as delicious as it sounds). If you're bringing this to an event, like I did, just pack the elements separately and assemble them on site. No time to style attractive photos! But, as with last week's offering, eating this quickly is easy work.

Peachy Eton Mess

serves 4-6

3-4 peaches, peeled if desired, and cut into chunks (if you like, you can toss them with 1/2 cup white wine and a few spoonfuls of sugar, but they're fine as is or topped with a squirt of lemon).

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup ground almonds

1 cup cream
2 egg yolks
1 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixer, beat the egg whites, gradually increasing the speed to high until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat, until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla extract, beat, and then fold in the almonds.

Drop the batter, by heaping spoonfuls, onto the lined cookie sheets (the meringues will be crumbled in the finished dish, so no need to worry about being pretty). Bake until they turn golden, ~20-25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool fully.

To make the custard: Heat the cream in a saucepan until it's just thinking about simmering. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla. When the cream is hot, pour it into the yolky bowl, whisk whisk whisking all the while to make sure that it forms a smooth mixture without curdling. Return the mixture to the saucepan over a medium-low flame, and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens (this will take just a few minutes). Remove from heat and set aside and cool (if you notice any curdling, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove them).

To assemble the trifle: In a large bowl (or individual serving dishes), break up the meringues and layer them with the peaches and custard sauce (ideally more attractively than I did). Devour.


  1. I like adding almonds to the meringues. I think it would make them taste so much better! I totally want to try it now.

  2. I like traditional Eton mess,served with a scoop of delicious cornish ice cream.You cannot beat the summery fresh taste of creamy Eton mess.