Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Berry Delicious Mess!

Since we wait around December to start enjoying the early summer strawberry harvest which I had sliced, lightly macerated in sugar, and then froze, it is now time to start coming up with ideas of how to use that bounty.  Of course strawberries can be defrosted partially--they become unappetisingly soggy if completely thawed--and served with whipped cream. 

However, I wanted to try something more elaborate, but not too fancy or difficult while perhaps learning a new culinary skill.  The solution turns out to be Eton Mess, a British pudding in which meringue pieces, sliced strawberries, strawberry coulis, and cream easily beaten into soft peaks* are combined without much finesse.

An appetising mess

Since the meringues are broken up into small pieces, it really does not matter if they are not rounds of sugary, whipped egg whites baked slowly to perfection.  Therefore, this recipe is great for learning how eventually to turn out superb meringues.  I am game if you are!  And if you are not game, it is permissible to buy already made meringues.

Makes six servings

  • Egg yolks, 3, from large, fresh eggs
  • Sugar, superfine, 6 oz (175 grams)
  • Strawberries, fresh (hulled) or frozen, 1 lb (450 grams)
  • Sugar, icing/confectioners, 1 rounded tbl
  • Cream, double/whipping, 20 oz (570 ml) 


Electric mixer (large balloon whisk can be used instead, but it a lot of work)
Baking tray
Parchment paper

Pre-heat the oven to  300°F (150°C).  Separate whites from the yolks.  My method is to crack the egg into my well cleaned palm and let my fingers act as a sieve--the whites drain into the bowl on their own account.  Since it is imperative not to taint the white with any yolk, it is safest to drain each egg's white into a separate, small bowl.  This way, you will only waste that one egg's white.  A list of recipes using up egg yolks is found here. Measure out sugar.  If you do not have superfine sugar then whir it in your processor for a few minutes until fine, but not powdery.

Make sure your mixing bowl and whipping attachment are scrupulously clean and dry.  Put whites in the mixer's bowl and starting on low speed, gradually work up to high speed, beating until they form soft peaks.

Add tablespoon by tablespoon the sugar while beating at high speed until all the sugar is added (you may have to stop the mixer when adding the sugar as to prevent it spraying all over you), and the whites are stiff and shiny.*  If they are mixed past this point, their structure will start to break down.

With a wooden spoon, I eased out gently all that egg white jammed into the beater.

Place heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to make nine, large (4 inches in diameter) meringues.  Since these will not be served whole as they will be broken up to go into Eton Mess,  I practised making depressions with a tablespoon in preparation for making Les Petites Mont Blancs which are filled with chestnut puree, fromage frais, and mascapone. Hopefully I will be able to make those for New Year Day.

Dayo felt a little left out so he pretended to be a meringue.

Position the baking tray in the centre of the oven and turn the heat down to 275°F (140°C) and bake for 1 hour.   Then turn the oven off, leaving the meringues inside until the oven is completely cold or if more convenient to dry out overnight.

Since these meringues were baked as long as an hour, they are a light and tasty shade of caramelised brownAs I taste tested one, it melted in my mouth like solid cotton candy.  The ones I will eventually do for Les Petites Mont Blancs need to be baked half that time to ensure they stay mostly white befitting a representation of a snowy mountain peak.

Basically airy, crisp sugar cookies

Traditionally fresh, in-season strawberries are used, but frozen ones worked out well.

Superb Gariguettes from our summer garden

Slice or chop half the strawberries and reserve.  Put the other half along with the tablespoon of confectioner's sugar into a blender/processor to make the coulis.  Alternatively, use a stick mixer.

Pass through a fine wire mesh sieve to get rid of the tiny seeds.

Beat cream until soft, rounded peaks* form.

Gather together the meringues, strawberry coulis, beaten cream, and strawberries.

Break up the meringues into small chunks.  Add the strawberries and then the cream.

Fold gently the cream into the meringue pieces and strawberries.  When folding which ensures the delicate, foamy structure of either beaten egg whites or cream remains mostly intact, a wooden spoon--some use a rubber spatula or a large balloon whisk--is placed at the bottom of the bowl's inner side and moved under the mixture.

The filled spoon is then lifted upward while sliding it vertically along the bowl's inner side as to bring the mixture down on itself.  Move the bowl a quarter turn after each folding.  It took me about about four turns and ten seconds to fold in the cream.  Note the folding in the coulis is the next step so the mess being under mixed at this stage is not a problem. 

Reserve about a quarter cup of the coulis and lightly fold the rest to get a marbled effect.

Spoon into individual dishes and dribble the reserved coulis on top.  Serve immediately.  Alternatively, all the mess can be put in a large serving bowl and bought to table along with the coulis in a small pitcher.

This is the kind of dessert for which dessert spoons were created.  One aspect I enjoyed about our living in England was seeing that comforting and familiar spoon put horizontally above the place setting regardless of the restaurant's status.  The Eton Mess?  We found it to be scrumptious with the meringues' over-the-top sweetness being more than balanced by the unsweetened cream and tart berries/coulis.

Bon appétit! 

*How to identify the various stages of beaten egg whites and whipped cream

Harvesting and freezing strawberries
How to Make Strawberry Jam