Eton Mess with Honeyed Peaches and Cream
This recipe started off as pavlova. A fine pavlova should be shatteringly crisp at the edges and marshmallow-like on the inside, but this contrasting pair of textures can be awfully tricky to get right. Humid weather poses a challenge, using not-so-freshly-laid eggs can cause problems, and a swift change in temperature often leads to collapsed pavlova--this is precisely what happened to mine.
The deflated pavlova still tasted great, so I thought I'd crumble it into bite-sized pieces and layer it between honeyed peaches and whipped cream. You could call it a trifle or a parfait, but I like to call it an Eton mess, one of my favorite recipe names of all time. Eton mess is a classic British dessert, traditionally made with strawberries rather than peaches. The idea here is to use any ripe, flavorful fruit and let its juices drip down through the layers of whipped cream and crumbled pavlova. Serve this elegant, unfussy dessert all summer long, switching up the fruit based on whatever looks best at the market.
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1¼ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1½ - 2 pounds peaches or plums
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup heavy cream
Rum, to taste
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until the mixture holds soft peaks. (Using a stand mixer on medium speed, this will take about 3 - 4 minutes). Gradually add the sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla, and continue to whisk until the mixture is thick, glossy, and satiny. When you lift the whisk up, the meringue should hold stiff peaks. Mound the meringue in the center of the prepared baking sheet, forming an 8-inch disk. Instead of shaping one giant meringue, you could use two spoons to make individual meringue cookies. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside on the baking sheet. Let cool completely. (I usually leave the meringue to cool in the oven overnight.)
To assemble the Eton mess, slice the peaches into wedges, toss them in a bowl with the honey, and set aside for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whip the cream, then stir in a splash of rum. Using your hands, break the meringue into bite-sized pieces and place a few of them in the bottom of each of six glasses. Spoon some whipped cream on top of the meringue pieces, then layer a few peach slices over the cream. Make a second layer of meringue pieces, whipped cream, and peaches. Serve promptly.
(Meringue can be baked several days ahead and stored in an airtight container. Assemble the Eton mess just before serving.)