Eton mess

By Julie Van Rosendaal
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If forced to choose, I might say this is my all-time favourite dessert—a perfect layered combination of sweet-tart-crunchy-creamy-soft that is essentially what you’d get if you dropped a pavlova on the floor and scooped it back up into a trifle dish or parfait glasses. You could use any fruit, but tart and juicy fruit works best—rhubarb is traditional in the UK, and pairs so well with berries, but you could also use plums, peaches, passionfruit, cranberries or apricots—whatever is in season, or in your freezer.

Both meringues and saucy fruit can be made well ahead, so all you have to do is whip the cream and assemble the mess(es) at dessert time. (And if you want to streamline things, pick up some packaged or bakery meringues.)

SERVES
6

Ingredients

Meringues:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  • 2-3 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2-3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, strawberries or other berries
  • 1/2-3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for the cream
  • 2 cups whipping cream

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 250˚F. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. In a large, clean glass or stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy—the mixer should start to leave a trail through them. Gradually add the sugar and cornstarch as you continue to beat them until they form stiff, glossy peaks, with the texture of shaving foam. If you like, beat in some vanilla.
  2. Drop in big spoonfuls (don’t worry about shaping them nicely—you’re going to bash them up anyway) on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet and bake for an hour, until barely golden, cracked and dry. They should still be marshmallowy in the middle, but if you want them more dry, turn the oven off and leave them inside for a few hours as it cools.
  3. Combine the rhubarb, berries and sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the fruit releases its juices, softens and breaks down to a chunky, saucy consistency. Taste and add more sugar, if you think it needs it, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate until cold, or at least cool enough that it won’t melt the cream.
  4. When you’re ready to assemble dessert, whip the cream with a spoonful of sugar until it holds soft peaks. In a trifle bowl, on a shallow platter or in individual dishes or glasses, break up and layer chunks of meringue, juicy fruit and whipped cream. 

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