Summer is the time for eating outside on the patio and bowls of ice cream snuck on the fire escape. It's a time that you may find yourself throwing together something for a crowd or an impromptu picnic. And it is the perfect time to break out my dinner party dessert ace-up-the-sleeve: a no-fail, no-bake, but still elegant dish that incorporates whatever fruit is at its best right now. I'm talking about a British dessert called Eton Mess.
I was introduced to Eton Mess as a child, and for a long time I thought it was called "Eatin' Mess." Mess isn't generally something you look for in a dessert, so if that's offputting, think of it as a deconstructed pavlova. Traditionally, Eton Mess is made by mixing together sliced up strawberries, whipped cream, and crushed up meringues. That's it. That's all you have to do. The brightness of the berries and the fattiness of the cream, combined with the sweet crunch of the meringue crumbles, make for a blissfully simple kind of sundae.
What's great about Eton Mess is that the format allows you to be as fancy or not-fancy as you want. You could, for example, swirl in some lemon curd to offset the meringue with the tang of citrus fruit. And you could make the meringue yourself at home before crumbling it in. You could also replace much of the heavy cream with Greek yogurt for a tangier, lighter topping, or add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier into the proceedings. The berries you use could be broken down into a quick jam or sauce, or just used fresh and whole.
You can also make it in a hurry with not much around. I've replaced meringue with gingersnaps and with sugar wafers when meringues are hard to find. I've made Eton Mess with peaches, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and even kiwi—whatever looks the best in the market and seems like it would be delightful with cream and cookie crumbles. You can layer the cream and fruit and meringue in a big dish or just pass around the components and have people add or subtract their favorite parts. It's so easy, so quick, and very tasty. What else do you want in a summer dessert?
Get the recipe: Stone Fruit Eton Mess