No Small Trifle: A Primer on Eton Mess

What's better than a hot mess and makes for some sweet eatin'? Eton Mess, naturally!

But...what is it, exactly? So glad you asked. It's a stately collegiate dessert, defined as "a traditional English dessert consisting of a mixture of strawberries, pieces of meringue and cream, which is traditionally served at Eton College's annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College."

So the Eton part of the name is pretty obvious...but what about the mess? And what's the story behind this vaguely trifle-esque dessert?

According to Robin Weir in Recipes from the Dairy, Eton mess was served in the 1930s in the school's sock (tuck) shop, and was originally made with either strawberries or bananas mixed with ice cream or cream. Meringue was a later addition (many credit this addition to Michael Smith, author of Fine English Cookery). Nowadays, Eton mess consists of pieces of crisp meringue, lightly whipped cream and strawberries, all stirred together - hence the name "mess".

But Eton isn't the only place where it's eaten: A similar dessert is the Lancing Mess, served throughout the year at Lancing College in West Sussex, England (see per this menu).

Of course, you could always describe this dessert the way I did while recently trying to explain it to a friend: "it's kind of like Pavlova and Trifle had a baby."

But no matter how you slice it (or spoon it), one thing is for certain: this is one mess you won't be able to get enough of. It's infinitely adaptable, too: got blackberries or blueberries? Substitute them in whole (or in part) for the strawberries. Don't like meringues? Try it with crumbled Nilla wafers or ladyfingers instead. 

Want a recipe? I will be posting a recipe next Monday on Serious Eats; in the meantime, here's a good one to try, or, if you're in Seattle, you can get Eton Mess at Smith in Capitol Hill.

An Educaketion: An Oscar-inspired Battenberg Cake for Serious Eats

Really, Battenberg Cake is a perfect food analogy for the film An Education.

It starts out with an unlikely pairing—only instead of May-December lovers, it's two cakes, one a light, girly pink; the other a rich, refined Madagascar vanilla (which in my version includes worldly splash of amaretto).

And like the film's main characters, both flavors breathe new life when put together. You get a delicious shot of sweetness from the pink cake paired with the intensity of the amaretto-infused cake. It's beautifully rounded out by a thick slather of preserves (and, if you're feeling decadent, a smear of buttercream frosting), all blanketed in a rich layer of marzipan.

Of course, unlike the film, you don't have to take the bitter with this sweetness. Dramatic, layered with sweet subtleties, and ever-so-British: consider this An Educaketion.

For the full writeup and recipe, visit Serious Eats!