Summertime and dessert is easy


Now that summer is here at last, it’s time to post one of the best and easiest dessert recipes I’ve encountered in years.

This is my take on the Eton Mess, a typically understated British name for an ethereal concoction of berries, whipped cream and crisp meringues.  The original has been served at the upper class British boys’ school for which it is named since at least the 1930s.  Some people theorize that it’s called a mess because all the ingredients are just stirred together before being plopped into a serving dish.

As much as I love strawberries, I thought the mess would be a perfect vehicle for a variety of fresh berries.   I’ve dubbed my version a California Mess because the whipped cream is blended with Greek-style yogurt, which introduces a tangy note and a bit more nutrition to an indulgent dessert.   I doubt that would be an acceptable variation on an English tradition.

This dessert can be super simple if you use commercial meringue cookies.  Guests raved when my friend Sylvia took this shortcut for a book club meeting recently.

If you want to take a little more effort, though, it’s even better when you make your own meringues.  They only take a few minutes to whip up, then bake unattended for a couple of hours in a low oven until they’re as light as clouds and just barely soft in the center.  They last for days when stored in an airtight container.

You can even skip the whipped cream and use a commercial honey yogurt, like the Greek Gods brand I bought at my local market.  My family really enjoyed that version of the Mess, but we agreed it’s more delicate when you mix whipped cream and yogurt in equal portions.

Stir in chunks of the ripest fruit of the season and you have an elegant dessert with minimal effort.   Who could ask for more when warm weather and the great outdoors beckon?

Serves 8 

4 egg whites
1 cup plus ¼ cup superfine sugar, divided use
1 teaspoon vanilla, divided use
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 cup strawberries
½ pint raspberries
½ pint blueberries or other seasonal berries

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter a baking sheet and line with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until they form stiff peaks.  Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the sugar, followed by ½ teaspoon of the vanilla.

Spoon egg white mixture onto baking sheet by the overflowing tablespoonful, leaving about 1½ inches between mounds.  Bake on the center rack of the oven for about 2 hours, until meringues are dry and lift easily off the parchment.  They should be very light for their size.  Let cool.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla until it forms soft peaks.  Gently fold in yogurt and mix well. Set aside.

Puree strawberries in a food processor or blender with remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Break meringues into rough pieces and fold into the whipped cream and yogurt mixture with the raspberries and blueberries.  Spoon into serving dishes and top with a little of the pureed strawberries.  Serve immediately.

Aleta Watson

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