Strawberries and cream; a classic, age-old combination. So what do you think of when you hear those two words together? Dessert? Sunshine? Picnics in the summertime? Me, I think of the British summer, Wimbledon and the inevitable rain. (Thank goodness they have a roof on Centre Court these days, a precaution against both the UK’s inclement weather and the night time…Murray vs. Baghdatis playing on until 11:02pm, anybody?)
Now, before you get the wrong idea, I’d better clear up this idea that I might be sporty in any way. That’s not the case at all. In fact, I’m so spectacularly un-sporty that I spent practically the entirety of my Year 11 PE lessons playing table tennis. In my defence, the teachers gave us a choice, so my best friends and I plumped for ping-pong. Every week. For the whole year. Otherwise, there’s no sport for me, apart from occasional cycle rides, that one time I went running because my friend asked me to go with her and swimming at weekends when I feel like it. No, I really do just have an inexplicable interest in tennis and particularly in the tournament held at the All-England Club every July. Sadly however, Wimbledon is over for yet another year and we continue to wait in hope for our British champion. (I, being a staunch Murray supporter – think of that whatever you will – remain strong in my belief that it will happen. And hey, like the man himself said after this year’s final against Federer on Sunday, he’s definitely getting closer…)
Anyway, what does all this have to do with strawberries and cream, I hear you ask? (And you’re right, that’s probably enough tennis talk for this foodie blog, so I’ll stop there.) Well, it’s a well-established tradition that Wimbledon and strawberries and cream go hand-in-hand; even just to say British summertime is practically to conjure up images of those two things. However, there is another thought which that combination sparks in my foodie imagination, and that is Eton mess. For the uninitiated, Eton mess is a dessert whose key ingredients are strawberries, soft, cloud-like whipped cream and crisp, chewy meringues. It is a dessert which screams ‘summer’ to me, and one that I look forward to making every year when strawberry season comes around. The combination of fresh fruit, rich cream and sweet meringues is simply outstanding, and it was with this in mind that I decided to make an Eton mess-inspired birthday cake for one of my housemates recently.
This cake consists of two layers of vanilla sponge cake, filled with strawberry mousse (usually a combination of whipped cream, strawberry puree, gelatine and occasionally egg whites, but I used a recipe which recommended marshmallows as the setting agent, for ease and speed) and decorated with sliced strawberries, whipped cream and meringue pieces. While each individual element (e.g. the sponge cake, the mousse, the sliced berries) were relatively straightforward to prepare, the assembly of the cake took a little longer. The sponges had to be levelled accurately and the berries sliced so that they were all the same height to ensure the cake would stand straight when finished. The mousse had to be smoothed over precisely for a clean finish. The piping work took a little time and the arranging of the sliced fruit too, to ensure good presentation. Probably not a cake to tackle if you’re in a hurry.
Yet overall, I feel that it turned out very well for a cake of my own devising (at least, the design and the combination of its elements, rather than the parts which made it up; I haven’t got as far as making up my own recipes yet!) Plus, it went down very well with the birthday girl herself, which is always a good sign!
In other news, I am finally caught up with my backlog (see previous post for more; it turns out I didn’t have as much to catch up on as I thought, since the recent exam season put a stop to baking pursuits for a few weeks), so that’s cause for celebration! Also, I’m going to be away for a little while next week, so there may be a brief pause in proceedings here on the aspiring baker, but trust me when I say that there’s something exciting coming up. Think cinnamon rolls, but not…!
(Cake recipe is my standard go-to sponge cake, taken from the book Best-Ever Cake Decorating by Angela Nilsen & Sarah Maxwell. Mousse recipe taken from BBC Good Food website. The meringues were not homemade unfortunately, as I didn’t have enough time.)