Last winter, when it was too cold to do much else here in Minnesota, my husband and I started surfing our cable TV’s On Demand selections. We discovered an entire season of an English reality show called “Come Dine With Me” and were instantly hooked. The premise of the show is that four foodies, strangers to each other and usually hilariously mismatched in personality, take turns hosting a dinner party for the others. The guests vote on the food, the hospitality, etc. and the highest scoring contestant wins a cash prize. (I think this show might be coming to the USA, so keep an eye out for it.)
We got several great ideas for recipes, techniques, and all things Dinner Party, but one dessert kept making an appearance: Eton Mess (apparently named after Eton College, where it was first served, although I prefer to think of it more as an Eatin’ Mess). Several of the contestants made this dessert, and it was always a big hit. I happened to see a recipe for it and decided to try it. What a great way to use fresh seasonal berries! The link to the original recipe is here, but I have modified it to make it easier to make and much lower in fat.
4 C mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries)
¼ C sugar
1 T lemon juice
2 C crushed meringue cookies
Whipped cream – either homemade (recipe follows) or Cool Whip or other whipped topping
Homemade whipped cream:
1½ C heavy whipping cream
2 t vanilla extract
½ t sugar (optional)
In a medium bowl, whip the cream and vanilla (and sugar, if using) until stiff peaks form. This is easiest using a whisk attachment on a hand mixer, stand mixer or handheld immersion blender.
Place half of the berries, along with the sugar and lemon juice, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook until most of the berries mash easily against the side of the pan. Pour this into a medium bowl and stir in the remaining fresh berries. Refrigerate until chilled. (If making homemade whipped cream, whip the cream and vanilla extract until soft peaks form.)
To serve, assemble the desserts as follows: spoon a little whipped cream into the bottom of the dish/goblet, top with some of the crushed meringue cookies, and then add the berries. Repeat, and top with whipped cream just before serving. (Can cover and refrigerate for several hours.)
Step by Step Details
Start by slicing your strawberries so they are just a little larger than the blueberries. If using blackberries, cut those to the same size. You can use fresh or frozen fruit, or a combination of the two. There are really no hard and fast rules to this dessert. (I just used what I had on hand for this batch.)
Place half of the berries, along with the sugar and lemon juice, in a medium saucepan. Since this mixture cooks down, used any softer bits of fruit in here: the riper berries, or the pieces that are a little soft and mushy. (Note: if you are in a time crunch, you can skip this step and just use whole berries for the dessert. This just kind of melds them all together a little nicer.)
Now onto the meringues. I made my own the first time I made this dessert, but it was very time consuming, especially once I discovered them already made at the supermarket. I absolutely love these vanilla meringues from Trader Joe’s. They last forever, too, if you don’t gobble them up right away.
Take a few of the meringue cookies and place them in a plastic ziplock bag. Gently crush the cookies by squeezing the bag or tapping on the cookies with a spoon. (Or you can crush them with your hands.) Don’t pulverize them: you want them in chunks, not powder, and they should be about the same size as the solid fruit pieces. Repeat this step until you have about two cups’ worth of crushed cookies.
To serve, assemble the desserts in whatever serving dish you choose. I use wine goblets for guests for the extra “Wow!” factor, but just use any old bowl when it’s just for me. And for a large group, I double the recipe and layer it in a glass trifle bowl (shown below).
1) Spoon a little whipped cream into the bottom of the dish/goblet. (A note on the whipped cream: not only is it extra time and work to make your own, but whipping real cream makes this otherwise healthful dessert packed with fat, so I choose to use Cool Whip. Feel free to make your own whipped cream or use whatever fat-content variety of a prepackaged whipped cream product you prefer.)
Top with whipped cream just before serving.
To serve this for a party, double the recipe and layer it in a glass trifle bowl, adding a layer of whipped cream after each berry layer. Adding this extra layer helps hold everything together a little better, so it’s easier to spoon out individual portions, but note that this extra layer may cause the meringues to get soggy, so assemble the dessert shortly before serving. (Guests love to watch it come together, too!) Enjoy!
P.S. Not that this is likely, but in the event that you have any leftover, either refresh it the next day with more meringues, or stir it all together and freeze it for a fruity kind-of ice cream treat.