Friday, June 30, 2006

Eton Mess

Eton mess is sex in a bowl - it is the most deliciously decadent, delightfully lush dessert imaginable. Quintessentially English, it is the distillation of summer. Using only a couple of ingredients that have to be utterly perfect - this absolutely, and without question, makes the most of what is best about shopping at Borough Market. Strawberries and cream and the dinner highlight of a posh boys' school - what could be better on a hot day?

First there is cream from Neal's Yard - 400ml of double cream from Jersey or Devon cows, thick and yellow - indeed positively cream coloured, unlike anything that is available in the major supermarkets. With an electric whisk beat the cream till it doubles in volume. Then there is meringue - a delicate confection of whipped eggwhites and vanilla sugar cooked slow and left in the oven to dry out overnight - this is crushed into pieces of crispy shell and chewy sweet sticky centre. Lastly there must be at least a pound of strawberries whose perfume fills the air as they are hulled, halved and mixed into the cream with the meringue pieces. Finished, it almost seems possible to inhale this pale pink scented cloud.


2 large free-range egg whites
pinch of salt
100g vanilla sugar - or caster sugar

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting, 100C /gas 1/4 max. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Put the egg whites in a clean, grease free bowl, add the salt and whisk till the egg whites hold firm peaks. Do not overbeat or it will go grainy. Graduallywhisk inthe sugar till you have a glossy firm meringue that it quite stiff. Spread it onto the baking sheet about 2 cm thick to make a circle about 10cm across. Bake for about 2 hours until lightly golden. Dry out in the turned off oven overnight. Break the meringue into small pieces and mix with the whipped cream and hulled strawberries.

Pure delight.

I made this as dessert for my friend Vicki when she came to dinner with us - I suggested simply three spoons and the bowl in the centre of the table but they wouldn't do it. Shame!

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