Because, when it comes to dessert, the messier the better
It's a known fact - dessert makes people happy. From cracked-out children on a sugar high, to grown-ups not finishing their dinners, so that they have just enough room for something sweet, the effect of a meal's final course is universal.
I have literally seen grown men in suits wriggle in their seats come the end of a long, serious, business dinner, at the thought of chocolate molten cake. 'Oooooh, is that like a lava cake? Does it come with ice cream? Can we make it two scoops of ice cream??' they plead, with conspiratorial winks and glances, and a sudden abandonment of the formality associated with the more savory courses.
I've always believed that this glee induced by sweets comes from the fact that dessert, more than any other food group, is emotional. Dessert is playing in the neighborhood until dark, it's coming home to mom's famous crumble, it's hiding cookies in your room, it's crumbs in bed, it's chocolate all over your face, it's long summer days filled with ice cream cones, and it's always, always a good thing.
If you want to sell dessert at a restaurant, write the menu using a lot of adjectives. Don't write 'apple pie,' write 'rustic, toasty-warm apple pie with a flaky, golden shortcrust pastry. Dusted with warming cinnamon-sugar and topped with rich, melting, real vanilla-bean ice cream.' Not only will your customers want to order it, they'll want to take a damn bath in it, rub it all over their faces, and call their moms to tell them they love 'em.
I also believe that the most craveable desserts are the most imperfect ones - the messiest ones. Or course, there's nothing like a beautifully decorated, immaculate cake, so perfectly constructed it practically screams 'photograph me', but that's just it - you want to take a picture, but by no means do you want to ruin it by slicing yourself a piece. Perfection, in dessert, lies in how it tastes and how it makes you feel, not in what it looks like. It's not about symmetrical lines and even spacing, it's about rustic plenty, bursting fruit, melts and drips, and sticky fingers. And it's about simplicity.
One of my favorite desserts satisfies both of those criteria. Eton Mess is, as indicated by its name, messy and ridiculously simple. Originally an English dessert, served at the annual cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School, it's comprised of broken meringue, whipped cream and strawberries, unceremoniously dumped into a bowl and mixed together.
It doesn't get much simpler than that. (As a side note, I love the idea of England's most promising and well-to-do young boys, gorging themselves on bowls of mess, with gobs of whipped cream undoubtedly perched at the corners of their mouths.)
I made this dish a fair amount when I lived in London, mostly because it's so delicious, but also because it reminds me of the big bowls of strawberries and cream we used to eat when I was little, and still eat every summer in Denmark.
I don't want to get into measurements here, because it's really not about that. Eton Mess isn't an exact science, it's just mixing whipped cream, broken meringue and berries together.
You can simply slice the berries and mix them in as they are, or you can slice half of them and simmer the other half with just a touch of sugar, until they break down, and then blend them into a sauce.
Break up your meringues and fold them into the whipped cream, along with the strawberry pieces and the sauce (if you made some). Give everything a light mix and then sprinkle some slivered almonds on top for a little added texture.
Now devour it, take a bath in it and rub it all over your face. Oh, and call your mamma, because you'll definitely get all the love feels from this one.