I make ice cream when I crave Eton mess — that lovely pile of broken meringue, whipped cream and strawberries so beloved in the U.K. This convoluted cooking happens to me often — an ingredient left from one project prompts another. Egg yolks left over from making the meringues for the Eton mess mean custard or eggnog or, in this case, ice cream.
First, let’s talk about Eton mess. I encountered this perfect summer dessert while bicycling in Rutland County, England. Just as in the Wisconsin favorite schaum torte and the internationally known pavlova, crunchy meringue pairs with softly whipped cream to create an Eton mess. Tender, slightly sweet acidic fruit cuts the sweetness from the meringue and the richness from the cream. The difference is in the presentation. Folklore has it that Eton mess is a pavlova that hit the pavement during a college cricket match — hence its messy demeanor.
All the better for casual summer gatherings that don’t stress the cook.
To get the mess going, I beat egg whites with superfine sugar to peaks, then bake circles into meringue crispness. For the fruit, I macerate assorted fresh berries with a bit of sugar. Barely sweetened whipped cream holds the whole thing together. Serve the mess in small bowls with a garnish of mint.
For a speedy Eton mess, I simply use packaged meringues (such as those sold in plastic tubs at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods), broken into bite-size bits, thawed frozen mixed berries and whipped topping.
As for the yolks that remain from the project, cook them gently in milk for a light, frozen custard-style of ice cream. My standard vanilla base combines mostly whole milk, heavy cream and a vanilla bean scraped to release its seeds. I’ll adjust the milk-to-cream ratios depending on the audience — more cream for company, less for family to control some calories.
Making ice cream truly is about cooking for pleasure since there are dozens of excellent commercial ice creams at most stores. I use the vanilla beans I bought in Mexico, cream and milk from a local dairy, eggs from the farmers market. We gather round while the machine does the hard work of gently beating air into the base. When the soft, mounds of fluffy ice-cold cream are ready, we stir in our favorite caramelized nuts, chopped homemade cookies or shards of special chocolate bars purchased on vacation. After a few minutes of firming the mixture in the freezer, we indulge together at the table. Not at all the solitary ritual of eating ice cream straight from the carton in front of the television.
Typically, long periods of time transpire between my ice cream-making adventures. So, I start by re-reading the ice cream maker’s directions. I usually use the style of ice cream freezer with an electric motor and an insulated bowl that contains a freezer liquid. During the summer months, I leave the bowl in the freezer so a quart of ice cream can be ready quickly.
For a crowd, I make a double batch of the base recipe below and freeze it in my wooden bucket White Mountain ice cream maker. Rather than a hand crank, it has an electric motor on top and yields 4 quarts of fantastically smooth and creamy ice cream. It requires ice cubes and salt to help freeze the cream. So I plan ahead to procure those ingredients.
We have a family member that prefers sorbet to ice cream every time. So, I make his favorite lemon sorbet for a summertime treat. Like ice cream, making sorbet is not about saving money. It’s about controlling the sweetness and tasting the freshness.
Eton mess, served with a dollop of homemade ice cream or lemon sorbet, to friends and family. Now there’s the perfect way to celebrate summer.
Prep: 10 minutes
Bake: 2 1/2 hours
Makes: 6 large meringues
If you don’t have superfine sugar, put 1 cup granulated sugar into a food processor; run the machine a few minutes until sugar is very fine. Cream of tartar helps stabilize the meringues; buy it in a small container and know that it will keep a long time in a cool, dry spot.
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat egg whites in a large bowl of an electric mixer until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and salt. Very gradually beat in sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms shiny, nearly stiff peaks, about 4 minutes depending on the power of your mixer.
3. Divide the mixture into 6 mounds on the prepared baking sheet. Use the back of a spoon to smooth the piles into 4-inch diameter circles about 1 inch thick.
4. Bake, rotating the baking sheet once or twice, until crisp and firm but not browned, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool completely. Store in a tin for a day or two.
Nutrition information per meringue: 91 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 21 g sugar, 2 g protein, 61 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
ETON MESS WITH OR WITHOUT ICE CREAM
Prep: 15 minutes
Stand: 15 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Frozen berries and store-bought meringues can be used here. I add ice cream or the lemon sorbet when serving this dessert in the summer.
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream, very cold
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups mixed small berries (such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and thinly sliced strawberries)
6 meringues, see recipe
6 small scoops vanilla ice cream or lemon sorbet, optional
Mint sprigs for garnish
1. Put cream into a small mixing bowl. Beat on high until frothy. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the sugar; beat just until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Refrigerate up to several hours.
2. Put berries into a large bowl. Crush berries slightly while stirring in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Let stand 15 minutes to draw out the berries’ juices.
3. Just before serving, fold the cream into the berries. Break the meringues into bite-size chunks; fold into the cream mixture. Spoon mixture into 6 pretty serving bowls. Add 1 small scoop ice cream to each bowl. Garnish with mint and serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving (with ice cream): 328 calories, 18 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 38 g carbohydrates, 36 g sugar, 5 g protein, 99 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
VANILLA CUSTARD-STYLE ICE CREAM
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Chill: Several hours
Makes: about 1 quart, 8 servings
Save the egg whites for making the meringue recipe above.
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
Optional mix-ins: About 1 cup chopped nuts, soft candy such as peanut butter cups, or shaved chocolate
1. Read the manufacturer’s directions on the ice cream maker; freeze the container if necessary overnight.
2. Use a sharp knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half. Scrape the seeds out with the tip of the knife; put the seeds and the pod into a saucepan along with the milk. Heat on low just until the milk is warm; do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat and let stand, 15 minutes. Remove the pods.
3. Set a wire mesh strainer over a large bowl set into a large bowl filled with ice.
4. Put the egg yolks into a small bowl. Whisk to mix and then whisk in 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture to gently warm the yolks. Pour this mixture back into the remaining milk in the pan. Whisk in the sugar. Set the pan back over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture barely thickens — it will coat the back of a spoon lightly. Do not walk away and do not let the mixture boil or the yolks will curdle. Immediately, pour the mixture through the strainer set over the bowl. Stir the cream into the bowl. Refrigerate until very cold (or up to 2 days).
5. Freeze the cold mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers’ directions. Then scoop into a container. Stir in any mix-ins, if using. Cover and put into the freezer at least 20 minutes. Let soften a few minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per 1/2 cup serving: 215 calories, 15 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 132 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 16 g sugar, 4 g protein, 39 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Chill: Several hours
Makes: about 3 cups, 6 servings
8 to 10 large juicy lemons
3/4 cup sugar
1. Using a fine grater, grate the yellow zest from 2 of the lemons (avoid the white pith or the mixture will taste bitter) into a small saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup water and the sugar. Heat to a simmer, and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate until cold.
2. Squeeze the remaining lemons until you have 2 cups fresh juice. Stir the juice into the cold lemon syrup. Strain if you wish, but I like the lemon zest in the sorbet.
3. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers’ directions. Then scoop into a container and freeze solid. Let soften a few minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per 1/2 serving: 115 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 27 g sugar, 0 g protein, 1 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
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