Perfect Meringues and Eton Mess
Eton Mess is a really classic British dessert, which with the traditional combination of softly whipped cream, fragments of crisp and light meringue and soft fruit at it’s absolute peak, giving a wonderfully summery feel. I’ve included a really simple recipe for meringues which are pretty much guaranteed to give you a wonderful light and crisp result, and will hopefully convert you from ever buying powdery and dry ready made meringues.
3 large fresh egg whites
A pinch of salt
175g or 6 oz caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 130°C (fan oven)/ 140°C/ 275 Fahrenheit/ gas mark 1 and line two large baking sheets with silicone paper or baking parchment
These meringues are supposed to be light and crisp all the way through, instead of being crisp on the outside, with a chewy marshmallow centre. If you want more of a chewy pavlova feel, then add a dessert spoon of cornflour and a dash of white wine vinegar to the meringue mixture.
There’s no need to worry about whisking egg whites. As long as you ensure that no egg yolk gets into the whites, and that the bowl you’re whisking them in is completely clean by whipping it over with half a lemon. I separate my whites by carefully breaking the egg in half and then tipping the yolk between the two halves of the egg shell, over an empty clean bowl. Separating the whites individually into a small bowl before tipping them into your large mixing bowl means that even if you get a little yolk in the white, it only contaminates one egg yolk, rather than all three yolks. Place the three egg whites into your large clean bowl, and add a pinch of salt, which helps to stabilise the whites while you whisk them to soft peaks. You want the whites to be stable enough to not slide when you tip the bowl but don’t be tempted to over whisk at this stage as the whites might collapse.
Once the whites are at this point, you can start adding your caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking after each addition until all the sugar is incorporated. To give a really smooth meringue, you want to keep whisking until the sugar dissolves. To check this, simply stop whisking and rub the mixture between your fingers, and if the sugar has dissolved, the mixture will feel completely smooth and the sugar granules will have disappeared. You also want the whites to be so stiff that you can hold the mixing bowl above your head, without covering yourself in meringue.
To shape the meringues, you can either pipe the mixture into smooth blobs or dollop the mixture onto the baking sheet using two dessertspoons to shape them. I go for piping the mixture, using a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. As always, I use my usual method of placing the piping bag into a vase, and then scraping the mixture against the side of the bag to make filling the piping bag that bit easier. Once you have dolloped or piped the meringue onto the baking tray, smooth out any points using a damp finger. Smoothing these points gives you a more perfect meringue as it prevents these points from burning.
Once you are happy with you meringues, place the baking trays into the pre-heated oven and turn the oven off immediately and leave the meringues to dry out overnight, to give a really light and crisp, perfectly white meringues. If you want you meringues to have a little colour, place the baking trays into the oven, allow them to cook for forty minutes, and then turn the oven off, and again leave the meringues there to dry out for as long as possible
You can serve you meringue sandwiched together with whipped cream or make the classic British dessert of Eton Mess.
275ml or half a pint of whipping cream
5ml vanilla extract
300g soft fruit, traditionally strawberries but I used raspberries
Eton mess is very much a thrown together dessert, and as the name suggests, it should an organic mixture of softly whipped cream, sweet crumbled meringues and fresh fruit. With that in mind, the quantities are very much a guide and you should feel free to swap in any combinations of fruit you like. You could opt for mango and passion fruit, ripe slices of peach with a few basil leaves or strawberries macerated in a little caster sugar and top quality balsamic vinegar.
I used raspberries in my Eton mess this time around simply because they looked so lovely. I went for the pure taste of the fresh raspberries but if you like, you could always add a handful of toasted desiccated coconut or even some torn mint leaves. For tips on how to toast coconut, take a look at my post on coconut and ginger flapjacks
Whisk the cream and vanilla until it reaches soft peaks. If you want a slightly sour taste, you could substitute some of the cream with crème fraiche. Once you’re happy with the consistency of the whipped cream, crumble in ten of the meringues, together with most of the fruit. Mix together, trying not to over mix so that everything is gently rippled together
Serve the Eton mess, topped with a little more crumbled meringue and a little more of the fruit. Enjoy and imagine that you are at the height of British summertime, on the one day when the sky is brilliantly blue