Eton mess is a very simple dessert that, by design, is supposed to be unfussy yet still perfect for entertaining. The dessert consists of a mixture of crumbled meringue and whipped cream, topped with berries or other summer fruits. The name may refer to the appearance of the dish – since crumbling meringue and tossing it in whipped cream certainly is a bit messy – but it could also refer to another definition of mess, meaning a quantity of prepared soft food.
My Amaretto Eton Mess with Five Spice Cherries is a great dish for entertaining because it is both delicious and easy to make. The components can be prepared in advance and, while it still looks a bit messy as you’re putting it together, it actually looks quire elegant when it is finally plated, in part due to the contrast between rich red cherries and creamy white whipped cream. It starts with a homemade vanilla meringue that is crumbled and tossed with a lightly sweetened Amaretto whipped cream. The almond flavor of the Amaretto (you can also use almond extract) really works well with the five-spice cherry mixture that is spooned on top of the meringue, giving it a lot more complexity than a plain whipped cream would.
I used a homemade meringue, but you can buy storebought meringues to streamline the recipe process if you prefer. I like the way that homemade meringues are often slightly tender on the inside (and they are often slightly less sweet than storebought), which just brings a different layer of texture to the dessert. Making the meringue is definitely the most time consuming part of the dessert and you can certainly use storebought meringues if you want to save time, though these meringues can be made a day ahead and stored loosely wrapped. The cherry mixture can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the refrigerator. This is something that I often make extra of, since it is so tasty. I typically use jarred or frozen cherries, however fresh cherries can be used in season. Keep in mind that five spice powders can vary from brand to brand, so season your cherries to taste.
Eton mess doesn’t necessarily have to be served immediately. If you let the mixture sit, the meringue will soften and become more tender. I personally like the contrast between the creamy whipped cream and the crisp edges of the meringue, so I usually serve it shortly after everything has been combined.
Amaretto Eton Mess with Five Spice Cherries
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch
Five Spice Cherries
1 cup of cherries
1/2 cup cherry juice
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (or 1 tsp almond extract)
1 tsp vanilla extract
To Make Meringue
Preheat oven to 250F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and continue to beat, gradually blending in the salt and sugar. Continue beating egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Blend in vanilla and cornstarch.
Spread meringue into a disc about 1-inch thick on the prepared baking sheet. Bake fir 90 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow meringue to cool for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let meringue come to room temperature (if it is not already) before using.
To Make Cherries
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Cook over medium-low heat until mixture comes to a simmer and thickens. Set aside to cool. Mixture can be made 2-3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To Make Whipped Cream
In a large bowl, beat whipped cream to soft peaks. Beat in sugar, Amaretto and vanilla.
Crumble cooled meringue in a large bowl. Add in the whipped cream and fold to combine the ingredients. Divide evenly into 4 dessert cups (or six small cups).
Top each with a large spoonful of the cherries and serve.