There’s a Buddhist concept that I think of often: Wabi-sabi. Translation: perfectly imperfect. It encompasses this worldview that accepts impermanence and imperfection as part of the beauty and perfection of this reality. I often find myself pained by the realization that the glowing cherry gems hanging by their soft green stems will soon be gone, if by design (I eat all of them) or nature. A cotton candy sunset is but for a moment. A laughing child is innocent for only a time. A crack in the pot can make it more beautiful. The charred tree, struck by lightning, juts out from the earth defiant and strong. The lovely, uninhabited tropical island is surrounded by impassable coral reefs. It’s an aesthetic that accepts and inhabits oddities and quirks and chaos.
In the kitchen I’m a dancer moving smoothly from one task to the next: chopping vegetables, washing fruit, frying onions, mixing batter, plating. Sometimes a piece of the dance requires improvisation where my concept for it doesn’t quite work as intended. Food’s impermanent and flexible nature requires us dancers to reflect those qualities. Accept the chaos and the quirks and the fleeting nature of it all, be the mirror, and enjoy the choreography we’re discovering as we go along.
Sometimes, for example, meringue batter goes from fluffy peaks to liquid soup. It happens.
So we tweak and re-imagine the final dish. Pavlovas topped with coconut cream and sour cherries translate into an Eton Mess. And, though it doesn’t present as prettily perfect as the soft swirl of a meringue all aglow with new fruit, it tastes wonderful and looks architectural. Instead of curves you get points and angles.
So here’s me encouraging you to hold onto that flat meringue batter and make this delicious, messy dessert.
This is what you do for any combination of sugar and egg whites once destined for a meringue or pavlova, gone flat:
Step One: add nut flour, about 1/4 cup for a meringue made up of 4 egg whites and 1 cup sugar + vanilla extract. Here I used hazelnut flour that I blitzed finely in a high powered blender.
Step Two: Spread the sticky mass out evenly on a large parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Step Three: Bake on low heat until dry then turn off the oven and let the mass dry further in the oven as the oven itself cools. I actually stored mine in the oven overnight because 1. I wanted to protect it from bugs while keeping it at room temp, 2. I wanted to keep it away from moisture so it remained crisp. It resulted in a nice, crisp & crackly sort of sheet cookie with a sticky, caramelized bottom.
If your intention is to make an Eton Mess from scratch specifically, as opposed to fix a meringue batter gone liquid, follow my instructions below. You can also use broken meringue bits in this, or baked meringues gone soft. Any sort of meringue that’s making you sad, put it in this mess and layer it up with lots of lovely fruit and cream and put a smile on your face! It’s not meant to be fabulously pretty — it is a mess after all. It’s simply meant to be fabulously delicious.
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 1 cup raw sugar or coconut sugar, blitzed briefly in a high powered blender or coffee grinder until you get a semi-fine consistency
- pinch fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup finely ground hazelnut flour (you can grind your own in a food processor)
- Preheat the oven to 210F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Using an electric beater, whip the egg whites in a clean, metal bowl for 5 minutes on medium high power.
- Add the sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating everything together after each addition.
- Add the salt and vanilla extract and beat a minute or so more to combine.
- Add the hazelnut flour. Mix further a minute or so.
- Spread the batter out over the baking sheet evenly.
- Bake for 60 - 70 minutes, until the top of meringue is dry and gently browned (it browns because of the natural sugars).
- Turn off the oven and keep the meringue in the oven as it cools. This dries it further.
- You can store the meringue in the oven overnight, if need be. Otherwise serve and layer into an Eton Mess immediately, as it doesn't keep well -- especially in any sort of humidity.
- If you have any extra crackly meringue mess left, it's great over ice cream!
- cream from one full-fat can coconut milk (about 1 cup) -- chilled at least 8 hours in the fridge
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cherries, pitted
- hazelnut crackly meringue mess
- In a large metal mixing bowl, combine the chilled coconut cream, honey, and vanilla extract. Using an electric beater, beat everything together until creamy and a bit aerated. Once whipped, chill in the fridge until ready to use.
- In serving dishes (I used a couple of different champagne and cocktail coupes), fill each glass with a couple of spoonfuls of sour cherries.
- Top with coconut cream, hazelnut crackly meringue mess, then another spoonful of sour cherries, coconut cream, and more meringue mess. Serve immediately!