What do you mean it's the Fourth of July next week? My head is still in, like, March or something. At the risk of totally sounding like Andy Rooney, where has this year gone? Really, people.
Anyway, since the Fourth is upon us, what are all you Americans out there doing to celebrate this fabulous summer holiday? I hope you've got all kinds of plans that involve sunshine, warm temperatures, a grill and cold beverages. Maybe even a swimming pool. And hey, while you're there, remind me what that's like, will you? Because I've spent the past several Fourths of July freezing in the fog in San Francisco. But this year, I plan to fake it. I will grill, I will wear something summery (with a huge sweatshirt over it), and above all, I will make a patriotic dessert like this completely perfect Eton Mess. Even you are off somewhere that actually has summer temperatures in summer (what a novel idea!), this is the very best sweet treat you could possibly put in your face to celebrate our great country.
Never mind that Eton Mess is actually a British thing and maybe it's kind of bizarre to go British on America's holiday, but hey, when something's this good, it really, really doesn't matter. Eton Mess is basically a deconstructed pavlova, which, by the way, is the most perfect dessert ever created and I'm pretty sure I would make that my pick for my last meal on earth. You just can't beat the combination of billowy whipped cream, crunchy, sweet meringues that melt on the tongue, and a punch of fresh berries. Divine.
This recipe is really not so much a recipe as it is a basic idea. Although berries, especially strawberries, are the traditional way to go here, there is no earthly reason why you couldn't use stone fruits or tropical fruits or whatever. The tartness of raspberries plays especially nicely with the sweet meringues and cream in this version, and of course a smattering of blueberries adds a bit of July Fourth jazziness. Dress it up by layering it in fancy champagne or parfait glasses, lay everything out buffet-style and have people make their own dang dessert, or throw the whole lot in a big glass bowl and go at it with a spoon. Whatever you want! You are free to make your Eton Mess all your own! Now that's America, right there.
Although you can absolutely make your own, I love store-bought meringue cookies for this recipe because they're always very firm and crisp, and really, there's nothing easier. Just read the label and make sure you're getting ones that just contain egg whites, sugar and vanilla-- no funny business. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have good ones.
If you want to experiment with other fruits here (I'm thinking peaches would be insanely delicious), just peel and chop them fine for the sauce and use your judgement with the sugar and lemon juice needed to balance the sweetness of the fruit you choose.
Frozen raspberries work perfectly fine here for the sauce--just get a small package of fresh ones to toss in for texture. Freshly whipped real cream is the ticket to heaven here.
3 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 6-ounce container fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled (or more, if you like--I sure do)
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed vanilla meringue cookies (or more, if you like--again, I sure do)
Combine two containers of raspberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and the lemon juice in a small saucepan set over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, mashing the berries with a fork. Cook until the berries have broken down and the sugar has dissolved, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the third container of fresh raspberries. Pour the sauce into a bowl and chill completely, either in the refrigerator or the freezer to cool it down quickly.
Whip the cream and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff peaks. When the raspberry sauce is cold, assemble the parfaits. Start by placing a dollop of whipped cream in the bottom of six dessert glasses. Spoon a bit of raspberry sauce over the cream, followed by a smattering of meringue pieces. Spoon on more cream, dot on some blueberries, and sprinkle on more meringue. Repeat the layers, alternating raspberry sauce and blueberries after the cream layers. Serve immediately.