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Cranberry Eton Mess

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eton messIf I had to choose a favorite dessert, this right here might be it. Eton mess – traditionally served at Eton College’s annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College in the UK – is typically served in spring and summer, but is perfectly suited to winter with its snowy whipped cream and garnet berries. It’s easy to do for a crowd, too – simply assemble as many as you need, using glass dessert dishes or wineglasses.

It can be easily customized for the seasons, of course – raspberries or blackberries in late summer, blueberries or rhubarb in spring, cranberries in December. I thought the tang of the cranberries would make it taste funny – not in the slightest. The sweet cream and crunchy meringues make the perfect foil for the ruby red cranberries – starting with a simple, not-too-sweet cranberry sauce gives it the right balance. If you were to add orange juice or zest to the sauce, that would be pretty spectacular, too.

Bonus: this dessert is completely fool proof – you need not worry about it not turning out. And although it’s suitably decadent, its sweet, fruity lightness makes it a perfect ending to a heavy meal.

It hardly requires a recipe. You’ll need meringues, whipped cream and cranberry sauce. Below are recipes for meringues and sauce, but you could start with store bought meringues. Do take a few minutes to make your own cranberry sauce though – the store-bought stuff is too stiff, and too sweet. Once you have all three, layer crumbled meringues, sauce and whipped cream in a tall glass or dessert dish and serve immediately, before the meringues have a chance to get soft.

Ruby Cranberry Sauce

This cranberry sauce isn’t overly sweet, allowing the flavor of the berries through and providing a perfect foil to the sweet cream and crumbled meringues. To make a cranberry-rhubarb sauce, swap chopped rhubarb, which has a similar tang, for half of the cranberries.

1/2 cup Port, water, apple or orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1 bag fresh or frozen cranberries

In a medium saucepan, simmer Port and sugar until thickened and reduced by half, 2-3 minutes. Add cranberries and gently stir to coat. Simmer until just tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Cover and chill until cold.

Meringues

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 250F. In a clean glass or stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy and small peaks barely form; gradually beat in the sugar, a spoonful at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated and the mixture holds stiff peaks. It should have the consistency of whipped cream or shaving cream.

Spread onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, until dry. Cool, then crumble to use in Eton mess.

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