Is it a trifle? Is it a pavlova? The Eton mess is like the place on a Venn diagram where those two dishes meet. From the pavlova, this dish brings light, crunchy French meringue topped with bright fruity flavors. But instead of your basic fruit sitting atop the meringue on a plate, this Eton mess gives us distinct and beautiful layers in a clear glass, resembling the classic trifle. Because we are using meringue cookies instead of cake, this dessert is lower in fat than a trifle – and it’s even gluten free.
Eton mess is a traditional English dessert developed – where else? – at Eton, the prestigious boarding school for boys. While the original dish is made with strawberries and whipped cream, I took a page out of Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen cookbook and used lemon curd instead of the whipped cream. The blueberry compote was my own addition, but it complements the flavors well. My recipe for Eton mess is decidedly nontraditional, but even if you’ve had the original, this dessert is a delight.Jump to Recipe
First, a disclaimer: this recipe requires a lot of separate steps. I have recipes below for the blueberry compote, the lemon curd, and the whipped cream, as well as a link to the meringue cookies that serve as the dish’s structure. All of your elements should ideally reach room temperature or colder before assembly. However – you can simplify this process. Following are a few tips for reducing stress when preparing this heavenly dessert.
- Make the elements ahead of time. I have recipes for lemon curd and meringue cookies on other parts of this site. The meringue cookies keep for a couple of days in an airtight container, and the lemon curd will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. You can also make the blueberry compote (below) a few days in advance and keep it in your refrigerator.
- Use store-bought elements. Everybody has a favorite packaged whipped cream product at their local grocery. Meringue cookies (sometimes) and lemon curd (more rarely) can be purchased at specialty grocery stores. Trader Joe’s Vanilla Meringues would be lovely in this recipe. The only portion I do not recommend substituting is the blueberry compote. While hypothetically blueberry jam would fit the bill, our compote has less structure than jam (since it contains no gelatin or pectin), and jam would give your final dessert a slightly different result.
Okay – let’s get down to business, starting with the meringues.
If you made them earlier or purchased a package, great! Skip to the next step. If you’re making them from scratch, see my post on the topic. A summarized set of instructions: place your egg whites in a bowl and whip them until soft peaks form. Add vanilla bean paste, cream of tartar, and granulated sugar before beating further, until stiff peaks form. Pipe the batter onto a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheets and bake at 225 degrees F for 1 hour. Feel free to pipe into any shape you desire; by making them yourself, you can make custom shapes that perfectly fit your serving dish. By altering the shape, you may need to adjust the bake time, so watch your cookies and adjust accordingly.
Once your bake time is up, turn off the oven and allow cookies to rest in the cooling oven until they have reached room temperature. The meringues will be ready for our Eton Mess once they have cooled completely.
Next, make your lemon curd. Melt your butter in a microwave safe bowl. Whisk in sugar before beating in eggs and egg yolk, one at a time. Add remaining ingredients and microwave at 45-second intervals (usually 4-5 minutes total) until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Place in the refrigerator to chill. This will be ready for our Eton mess once it has reached room temperature or colder.
Have questions or need a few more details on this step? See my microwave lemon curd post for more information.
While your lemon curd is cooling, prepare the blueberry compote. For this portion, you are welcome to use either frozen or fresh blueberries. Mix blueberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Continue to heat until they begin to boil. In a separate glass, stir together water and cornstarch. Pour into boiling blueberry mixture; continue to boil for 3-4 for minutes, until thickened. Place in the refrigerator to cool.
Finally, it’s time to make some whipped cream. This step is completely optional – you are welcome to use your favorite brand of packaged whipped topping. However, homemade whipped cream will almost always have more flavor, and may be easier to pipe into your individual glasses than the whipped topping you find in a tub.
If you’re going to make your own whipped cream, you might as well go all-out. For best results, place your stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk in the refrigerator or freezer prior about 20 minutes prior to preparing the whipped cream. (Maybe throw them in the freezer when you start the above portions of the recipe.) Pour your heavy cream into a chilled mixing bowl. Whisk on medium speed until the mixture is thick, but before soft peaks form. Gradually mix in sugar and vanilla bean paste. Continue to mix on medium speed until stiff peaks form; do not overmix unless you want butter! This is ready to pipe on the Eton mess as soon as you are finished whisking.
Finally – your curd and compote have cooled, your cookies are done, and your cream is whipped. You are finally ready to assemble! Start by placing meringues in the base of your serving glasses. (Something the size of a rocks glass tends to work best. The glasses pictured came as the packaging for prepared tiramisu from Costco, and hold 6 ounces of water when filled to the brim.)
Layer the rest of your ingredients into the glass. I like to do multiple layers in the following order, from bottom to top: meringue, compote, lemon curd. Repeat the sequence until your glasses are full.
Once you have filled the glasses to the brim, top with piped (or dolloped) whipped cream. Snap a quick picture of your beautiful creation, grab a spoon and enjoy.
After a crazy number of steps, your dessert is finally finished! Pat yourself on the back and savor every bite of these tasty treats. If you make these at home, please tag @WhiskAverseBaking on social media or leave a message in the comments below.
Lemon Blueberry Eton Mess
- 6-8 four-ounce glasses, for serving
- 24-36 meringue cookies – the total will depend on size of cookies and the size of your serving glasses
- 2 cups blueberries fresh or frozen
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅛ cup water
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3/4 cup sugar
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter melted
- ⅔ cup lemon juice
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 teaspoons lemon zest optional
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- If you did not pre-purchase meringue cookies, prepare them now. If you are making them from scratch, these will add about 3 hours to the total preparation time for this dish.
- Next, prepare your blueberry compote. Combine blueberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Continue to heat until the berries break down and the mixture begins to boil. In a separate container, stir together water and cornstarch. Pour into boiling blueberry mixture; continue to boil for 3-4 for minutes, until thickened. Place in refrigerator to cool.
- Next make your lemon curd. Melt butter in a medium-sized, microwave safe bowl. Whisk in sugar before beating in eggs, one at a time. Add remaining ingredients and microwave at 1-minute intervals (usually about 3 minutes total) until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Chill until cold.
- While the lemon curd and blueberry compote are cooling, prepare your whipped cream. Pour heavy cream into chilled mixing bowl. Whisk on medium speed until the mixture is thick, but before soft peaks form. Gradually mix in sugar and vanilla bean paste. Continue to mix until stiff peaks form; do not overmix unless you want to make butter!
- Once your lemon curd and blueberry compote are completely cooled, begin assembly. Layer your ingredients in small dishes or cups in the following layers, starting from the bottom: meringue, compote, lemon curd, meringue, compote, lemon curd, whipped cream.