Secret flavor booster updates sweet, layered Eton mess

Eton mess — Britain’s luscious mixture of berries, whipped cream and broken meringue cookies — takes its name from the English boarding school, where it is served during cricket matches. All the ingredients are layered in a jar, which gives the dessert an appealing premise.

The problem is, it tends to be one-note sweet and lacking in nuance.

For our version, from our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we included one unusual flavor booster — sherry vinegar. The tartness brings a lovely balance to the sweetness of the meringues and mimics some of the acid found in many berries.

To ease prep, we use store-bought meringue cookies, toast them under the broiler, and layer them with whipped cream studded with cherries and chopped chocolate. Frozen cherries make this dessert a breeze to put together; we chop, then soften the fruit by microwaving the pieces with sugar and the vinegar.

The result is a delicious blend of textures and sweet-and-sour flavors, all put together in elegant layers that make this dessert only seem like it was a lot of work.


Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

2 cups frozen pitted sweet cherries, thawed and chopped

⅓ cup white sugar

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

4 ounces cocoa meringue OR vanilla cookies, lightly crushed (about 2 cups)

1 cup cold heavy cream

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix the cherries, sugar and vinegar. Microwave for 5 minutes, then strain, reserving the liquid; cool completely.

Heat the broiler with a rack about 4 inches from the element. Spread the meringues on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until browned, 30 to 60 seconds.

In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the reserved cherry liquid and two-thirds of the chocolate, then beat to stiff peaks. Spread half the meringues and half the cherries in a serving bowl. Top with the whipped cream, then the remaining cherries, meringues and chocolate.


EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

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