Make Ahead

Eton Mess with Rhubarb-Gin Jam and Lemon-Basil Meringue

June  4, 2013
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 4 to 6 people
Author Notes

This dessert is a bit on the savory side, thanks to the basil, the rhubarb, and the gin. The strawberries and cream add sweetness, and a cool freshness, to the proceedings. I’m tickled by how the meringues turned out: taffy-soft on the inside and crisp on the edges, redolent of basil and lemon in equal measure. You can serve this dessert in a variety of ways: Stack the ingredients in a jelly jar, and bring them along for a picnic, or pretend you're a fancy pâtissier, and make large macaroons–cream, strawberries, and rhubarb jam sandwiched between two meringue coins. Or, layer the ingredients in a short fat glass, like a trifle. (You can prepare these in advance for a dinner party, or allow guests to build-their-own.) Regardless of how you serve it, this dessert reminds sweetly that it’s spring at last. —Cristina Sciarra

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Cristinasciarra is a writer, food blogger, and Food52 all-star living in New York.
WHAT: The most delicious mess you'll ever make.
HOW: Whip together a basil-lemon meringue; make a quick rhubarb-gin jam; macerate strawberries; whip some cream; layer it all together. Dig in.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Cristinasciarra puts so much care into each and every component of this dish -- the meringue is lemony and herby; the strawberries are juicy and sweet; the jam is perfectly tart, with the kick of the gin. Each thing could stand easily on its own -- but is best consumed, as directed, in a big mess all together. We can't think of a better way to celebrate all of the fruits coming into season. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Zest of 1/2 a small lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 heaping cup egg whites (about 2 large eggs)
  • Juice of 1/2 a small lemon (1 tablespoon)
  • 3 stalks rhubarb
  • Juice of 1/2 a small lemon (1 tablespoon)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gin
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 punnet full of strawberries (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Basil-Lemon Meringue: Heat the oven to 225 F.
  2. Wash the basil and dry it well, and then move the leaves to the bowl of a food processor. Zest the lemon (directly into the food processor, for ease). Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Set the bowl aside.
  3. Empty the eggs whites and the lemon juice into a metal mixing bowl. Set the mixing bowl over a simmering pot of water, and beat the whites using an electric mixer on medium-low speed; whisk for about 3 minutes, or until the egg whites begin to froth. Add 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and increase the speed to medium; whisk until the egg whites are a bit stiff, 4 to 5 minutes. Now add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and whisk again, another 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat under the water bath, and move the bowl to the countertop.
  4. Pulse the food processor for about 20 to 30 seconds, until the basil and the lemon zest have incorporated into the sugar. (Wait to do this, until just before you add this sugar to the egg whites -- you don’t want the basil to brown.) Add the basil-lemon sugar to the egg white bowl, and beat on medium speed, another 2 to 3 minutes. The egg whites should be tinted lightly green, flecked with basil, and stiff enough to form peaks.
  5. Move the meringue into a piping bag -- I simply used a large, zip lock bag with a hole snipped into one corner. (You could also just use a spoon to scoop little clouds, if you’re going for a more rustic look.) Pipe the meringue onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; my batch yielded 16 meringues, but you choose how large or small to make them.
  6. Move the baking sheet to the oven for 1 hour, and then turn off the heat. Without opening the oven door, let the meringues rest for at least 1 hour, but up to overnight.
  7. -------------------------------------
  8. Gin and Rhubarb Quick Jam: Cut the ends off the rhubarb stalks, and also cut away any bruised bits. Now slice the rhubarb into pieces, about 1/2-inch long.
  9. Move the rhubarb to a medium saucepan, along with the lemon juice, the sugar, the gin, the pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of water. Turn the heat to high, until the liquid starts to bubble, and then lower the heat to medium low. Stir occasionally. Cook the rhubarb for about 20 minutes, or until the rhubarb is jammy, but retains its shape a bit. Let the jam cool; it should fall apart a bit when you stir it.
  10. -------------------------------------
  11. Prepare the strawberries: Slice the tops off of the strawberries, and then slice the strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the strawberries, and your personal preference. Move the strawberry pieces into a medium bowl, and stir in the brown sugar, until the strawberries are evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or until strawberry syrup collects at the bottom of the bowl.
  12. Prepare the cream: Whip the heavy cream. I like to keep the cream on the runny side, the consistency of stirred yogurt, but it’s up to you. The cream should be cold when you whip it. Move it to the fridge for a little while after you whip it, so that it’s also cold when you serve it.
  13. Put everything Together: There are really no rules for how, or in what order, you put together the meringue, the jam, the strawberries and the cream. You can crack the top of each meringue (for example, to fit them into a jar), or not. I recommend drizzling some of the strawberry syrup over the top of each, to finish.
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Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at

5 Reviews

[email protected] June 14, 2022
This is such a fantastic recipe. The gin-rhubarb jam is just so dang good! And the meringues…I didn’t use basil, I used lemon verbena from my garden. It was out of this world! Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Marti May 10, 2020
I made this for a picnic and it turned out fantastic! While slightly time consuming, it is an easy recipe to make. I like all the components and am thinking of different ways to apply them to other seasonal berries.
Gibson2011 May 22, 2014
I think the jam itself sounds fantastic (as well as the other components)! Don't have time to make it all, but the jam is definitely happening tomorrow.
Bevi May 21, 2014
What a great way to add flavor to a classic Eton Mess.
Cristina S. May 22, 2014
Thanks, Bevi!