I’ve become a total flag waving maniac over the last few weeks, which culminated in a flag-and-chocolate-gold-medal arrangement in my front window for the duration of the Olympics. I’m sure the sight of chocolate just out of reach annoyed many a passing child! Earlier in the week, the Paralympic flame was lit in Trafalgar Square and the overnight torch relay is underway, so the fun starts all over again from tomorrow – and yes, I’m lucky enough to have more tickets!
But while the venues were amazing, the sport so far has been amazing and the Tube has kept on tubing, I’m going to say it…the London Games managed to get something rather wrong. It was the food, and all I can really say is “oh dear”!
OK, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but where, oh where, was the Best of British? The proper tea shop, selling scones, clotted cream and jam? Summer desserts? Bowls of strawberries? I really think they missed a trick here – I suspect Japanese visitors would have loved the sight of miniature Battenberg cakes and Bakewell tarts, although just how popular that Scottish legend, the deep-fried Mars bar, would have been remains unclear.
To counter this, and to get into practice for the Paralympics, I’ve dug out my old recipe for Eton Mess, which is essentially whipped cream, fruit and meringue. This might sound like an odd name for a recipe, but it has the benefit of being a complete doddle to make and tastes great. The fact that it is all “messed up” means that you can make this recipe with zero creative skills, but I would imagine that in most cases, the urge to artfully swirl the mixture will take hold. Whether all that meringue and cream really suits a major sporting event is another matter…
There are two ways to make this dessert. Either you can buy the meringues, then just crush them, mix with some whipped cream and chopped strawberries, and that’s it.
However, you can opt to go posh (and I suspect that at Eton they do, rather). Make your own meringue according to preference, then mix with softly whipped cream infused with whatever flavours you like (vanilla or even a tiny dash of booze). Then the fruit – prepare it ahead if time and allow to macerate, and you end up with a gloriously rich, sweet, fragrant mush then combines seductively with the rest of the pudding.
Whichever option you take, I recommend assembling this pudding at the last possibly moment – that way, you get to enjoy the soft cream, crisp-and-chewy meringue and ripe fruit. However, if you leave it for more than a few minutes, the meringue will start to dissolve and you’ll lose all the contrasting textures and flavours.
Strawberries are traditional in this dessert, but you can make changes depending on what you have to hand and what is in season. Raspberries add some sharpness that balances the sugar, stewed rhubarb goes well with the strawberries, and brambles are great later in the year. And all this talk of fruit brings me to my final tip – make sure you have the fruit at room temperature when you are making up the pudding – you’ll get the best flavour that way.
So now…sit back…and let the Games begin…again!
To make Eton Mess (serves 8):
For the meringue:
• 2 egg whites
• 100g white caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• few drops vanilla extract
To finish the pudding:
• 1 pint (450ml) double cream
• 1 pound (450g) strawberries
To make the meringue:
1. Preheat the oven to 130°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
2. Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt, then whisk until you get to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar, a quarter at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla and whisk on full power until the mixture is smooth, white and stiff, and you can’t see any sugar crystals (allow a good five minutes for this).
3. Place tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet. Put the meringues in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 110°C. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat. Leave the meringues in the oven until cold (overnight is ideal).
To prepare the dessert:
1. Clean and trim the strawberries. Cut into quarters and put in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour (covered with cling film to keep insects away!).
2. Break the meringues into chunks (between 1 and 1/2 inches) and place in a bowl.
3. Whip the cold cream until you have soft peaks, then add to the meringue pieces. Add 2/3 of the fruit. Fold the mixture together gently – aim for the mixture to have a rippled look.
4. Divide the mixture between the serving bowls, and top with spoonfuls of the remaining strawberries. Serve straight away.