WESTON BLACKBERRY & PEACH MESS
Since the 1930s, competitors and spectators have been served a dessert affectionately known as Eaton Mess at the annual home cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School. Why is it called "mess"? Take one picnic basket filled with a gorgeous strawberry and cream pavlova and a rambunctious labrador retriever. With a spirited teenager-like personality, the puppy springs without looking at its landing spot and ends up on top of the dessert filled basket turning the lovely afternoon treat into a crumbly mess. Boys being boys, they eat the ruined fruit and merengue and profess that they actually prefer it all messed up. Thanks to this bat and ball wielding team, this is one dessert in which appearance is an afterthought. Serve this mess at the next gathering and be prepared for some serious tail wagging.
Nota bene: The meringues may be made two days in advance and stored in an airtight container. On humid days, leave the meringues in the oven 5 to 10 minutes longer. To appreciate the swirls of color, this dessert is best enjoyed in a clear glass bowl. Castor sugar dissolves more easily and has a lighter texture than ordinary sugar. It is really nothing more than granulated sugar that has been ground to a finer consistency. No need to buy castor sugar, make it. Put granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a mini chopper works great) and pulse a few times. Pulse until the sugar is a super-fine consistency, but not powdery. For a gorgeous more intense blackberry swirl in the meringue (slightly more time intensive option) drop the meringues on the parchment paper before adding the blackberry puree. Drizzle a tablespoon of the puree over each meringue and with the end of a bamboo skewer pull the puree through the meringue. Go ahead, mess round!
MAKE THE PAVLOVA
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use an upside down 3 1/2" bowl (more or less) to trace 6 evenly spaced circles on the paper.
2. Put 1 1/2 pints of the blackberries, the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Mash the berries with the back of a wooden spoon, or use an immersion blender, to make a puree. Cook for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Begin adding the castor sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meringue becomes stiff (but not dry) and shiny.
4. Sprinkle the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla over the meringue and gently fold.
5. Using a spatula, gently swirl some of the blackberry puree through the meringue to make a violet and white combination. The pavlova should look like swirls of violet and white rather than one uniform color. Reserve the remainder of the sauce for assembly.
6. Gently drop the marbled meringue onto the circles drawn on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.
7. Flatten the top and smooth the sides of the meringue with a spatula.
8. Put in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250 degrees F.
9. Bake for 1 hour and then turn off the oven until it cools completely (leave pavlova inside--even overnight).
10. Once the pavlova is cool, remove from the oven. Reserve until ready to complete the dessert.
WHIPPED CREAM & ASSEMBLY
1. Whip the cream to a light, soft but not stiff, texture.
2. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip for 10 seconds. Reserve.
3. Crumble each pavlova into a bowl. Just before serving, pile the whipped cream onto the center of the pavlova and dollop the cream on top of the crumbled meringues.
4. Spoon the reserved blackberry puree over the whipped cream and let it drip down the sides. Add fresh berries and the chopped peaches to the top and serve immediately.
Serves 8 to 12
FOR THE MERINGUES
8 egg whites
2 1/2 cups castor sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 pints blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 pint blackberries
2 large tree-ripe peaches, peeled and chopped