At the close of this seemingly neverending sky-slush season, let me just say: thank goodness for rhubarb. Seriously.
There’s something about those rosy stalks with their bright green leaves that are just inherently cheerful. I’ve been buying it by the armful this past month, and complete strangers on the street, when they saw the stalks poking out of my bag, smiled at me or gave me a nod. Seems like I’m not the only one who considers them a harbinger of spring.
It took me ages to settle on what I wanted to make. Rhubarb is such a versatile ingredient, and it works just as well in a pie, scone, or cream puff as it does in ice cream, coffee cake, or even a chutney. A grand, towering pavlova seemed like a good idea, but to be honest, I’ve always preferred desserts that are a little on the imperfect side–give me a sloppy pile of deliciousness over a perfectly-sculpted French pastry any day. And that’s when it hit me: I should make an Eton Mess!
Eton Mess is a traditional British dessert that (as the tale goes) was developed at Eton College, and consists of a mixture of whipped cream, crushed meringue, and fruit (usually strawberries). What I love about it is that it’s gorgeous and unfussy, and almost absurdly easy to make. You roast the rhubarb with a little lemon and vanilla for aromatics until it’s tender and syrupy. Pair that off with sweet, crunchy meringue, little clouds of whipped cream, and toasted, nutty pistachio, and you’ve got an indisputable winner of a dish.
If you’re not much of a meringue baker–or you’re short on time–you can purchase store-bought ones, or replace the meringue with another crunchy cookie of your choosing. (Though if you wanted some tips on how to make meringues, check out the tutorial we posted earlier this week.) Happy baking!
*For the meringues:
- 3 fresh (i.e. not from the carton) egg whites
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp each salt and almond extract
For the rhubarb:
- 500g rhubarb (about 5 stalks), leaves discarded and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- beans from 1/2 scraped vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- 1 cup whipping cream (35%)
- 1/3 cup chopped salted pistachios
For the meringues:
Preheat the oven to 300F; line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Wipe down the inside of your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment with a tablespoon of white vinegar; dry thoroughly with paper towel.
In stand mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy and egg whites can hold soft peaks. Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until completely dissolved. Whisk mixture on medium-high speed until meringue is thick, glossy, and can hold very stiff peaks. (You should be able to invert the bowl without the mixture slumping out or losing its form.) Whisk in the salt and almond extract until just combined.
Spoon or pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheets, into 6-8 small circles, about 1 inch tall. Transfer to oven and reduce heat to 250F. Bake for 50-60 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until meringues are set to the touch. Turn off oven, prop oven door open with wooden spoon, and allow to cool inside oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
For the rhubarb:
Heat oven to 400F. Line 9x13" pan with parchment.
Gently toss rhubarb, sugar, zest, and vanilla. Roast for 15 minutes, gently tossing once halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
In large bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Crumble the meringue; fold into whipped cream (reserving small amount for garnish). Fold in two thirds of rhubarb and pistachio. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with remaining meringue, rhubarb, and pistachio. Serve immediately.
*For tips and tricks to ensure meringue success, you can check out our Tutorial Tuesday post, but if you're short on time, store-bought meringues work just as well here.