The British habit of appropriating flavors and foods from around the world has created some of the country’s most iconic culinary traditions—fish and chips (of Jewish and French origins, respectively), marmalade (first brought by the Portuguese, or possibly the Romans) and tea (from Asia) among them.
Flipping that script gave us the answer to updating a classic, if all too simple, English dessert.
Eton mess—Britain’s summery mixture of berries, whipped cream and broken meringue cookies—takes its name from the elite English boarding school, where it is served during cricket matches. Though the dessert has an appealing premise (and origin story—the haphazard mashup of ingredients is sometimes attributed to a Labrador that sat on a picnic basket at one such match), it tends to be one-note sweet and lacking in nuance.
For Milk Street’s version, then, we stuck with the basics but added dimension to each element by incorporating flavors from the Middle East, where desserts have traditionally paired fruit with bold spices.
For the fruit, we chose raspberries over the traditional strawberries. In addition to better availability and quality year-round, raspberries offer tartness to balance the sugar. To make the most of the berries, we used them as is and also in a quick puree spiked with lemon that spreads their fruity flavor throughout the dessert.
To add complexity to the whipped cream, we reached for cardamom, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern spice blends, Indian sweets and Arabic coffee. It gave our cream a warm, floral flavor. Tangy sour cream, whipped into the heavy cream along with white sugar and the cardamom, helped temper the sweetness and gave us a silkier whipped cream.
Store-bought meringue cookies worked just as well as homemade, with none of the hassle. But they did benefit from a brief broil, a simple way to enhance their texture. It also caramelized their sugar, giving them a taste reminiscent of toasted marshmallows. Crushed pistachios added a salty crunch that also complemented cardamom’s Middle Eastern accent.
Traditionally, the ingredients for Eton mess are simply stirred together in a bowl. We chose instead to layer them for a more elegant approach, which also ensured that the meringue stayed crisp until the last bite.