In truth, the world doesn’t need another recipe for Eton Mess. They’re not exactly thin on the ground. But I’m sharing this because it’s such a favourite at Pen and Spoon HQ – it’s virtually synonymous with summer for us.
Although traditionally made with strawberries or bananas, this British classic really is a blank canvass to paint with what you fancy or have in the fridge. In my book, it has to contain fruit, cream and meringue, but beyond that I’m up for scoffing most variations (bring on the banana and caramel).
This version obliges you to make meringue rather than use the shop-bought stuff, but it’s really very little bother, especially if you don’t have to separate the eggs. After I wrote a piece for the Guardian about the current egg-white craze in the UK and US, the kind ladies from Two Chicks liquid egg white company sent me some of their product to try. Although I have an aversion to most pre-prepared ingredients (illogical, I know, as I happily cook with shop-bought pasta), I can report that these are brilliant. They whip well and save you the hassle of using up the yolks, or worse, throwing them out.
For the meringue
- 2 egg whites
- a good pinch of cream of tartar
- 120g fine caster sugar
- 3 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
For the rest of the Mess
- 500g strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- about 4 tablespoons icing sugar
- 300ml double cream
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
Heat the oven to 110°C/225°F and line a baking sheet with baking paper. In a scrupulously clean and dry bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form that hold their shape. Very gradually beat in the sugar until glossy, then fold in the cocoa. If you don’t fancy the chocolate version, omit the cocoa from the egg whites, but add the scraped-out seeds of a vanilla pod to the cream.
Using a spatula, spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet to a thickness of about 1.5cm – it doesn’t matter about the shape as you will be breaking this up into bits. Bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the meringue to cool with the door open. This might take a couple of hours.
As soon as the meringue is in the oven, place half the strawberries in a pan and crush with a masher. Add the balsamic vinegar and half the icing sugar, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the fruit has cooked down to a thickish sauce. Set aside to cool. (I know you can simply blitz the fruit to a sauce in a blender with a little icing sugar, but it’s especially flavourful if you do it this way.)
When – and only when – the meringue is cold, whip the cream with the remaining icing sugar and cinnamon to a soft dropping consistency, being careful not to over-beat. Add more cinnamon or sugar to suit your taste.
Crumble the meringue and fold through the cream. Gently fold through most of the strawberry sauce and most of the strawberries.
Distribute into bowls and serve drizzled with the remaining strawberry sauce and topped with the remaining strawberries.