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A delicious mess worthy of an angel

Recipe: Strawberries star in no-fuss dessert

Two clear glass filled with cream and strawberries
A strawberry fan tops off the strawberry-cream-cake dessert. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)

The British dessert known as Eton mess has been on my dessert bucket list for awhile. It's named for Eton College, where the sweet creation is served after the traditional Eton-Harrow cricket match. Fresh strawberries are the stars, diced and allowed to macerate in a little sugar. They're swirled into a concoction of fresh whipped cream and broken pieces of crunchy meringue. Sounds like spring, right?

(The origin of the dessert isn't clear, but it seems likely that a dessert accident -- maybe dropped? crushed? sat on? --  was a contributing factor. The dessert called pavlova, after the celebrated Russian ballerina, also has meringue, cream and fruit, and may have been the starting point.)

Chunks of angel food cake on a pan
The angel food cake slices were cut into chunks. After trying
varied sizes, I decided smaller was better: more crunch.
Well, I didn't feel like making my own meringues -- I had gardening to do! -- and I couldn't find any meringue cookies in my COVID-limited sphere. So I went with the next best thing: toasted pieces of an angel food cake I'd found in the supermarket bakery department. That'd be crunchy, sweet and airy, right? So I had to rename the dessert.

I also picked up a few tips along the way about the ingredients, which can come across as too sweet without something to cut through the sugar. Lemon zest and just a bit of mascarpone cheese (or sour cream,  crème fraîche or plain yogurt) do just that.

Raspberries or blackberries also would be delicious in this, though you'd have to crush them a bit to get some juice going. (Lime zest instead of lemon works best for  these berries.) This recipe will serve 4 easily -- 6 after a big dinner, since it's surprisingly rich.

Don't mix the prepared ingredients together until just before serving or the toasted cake will get soft. Then you'd have something approaching trifle, which is another spring dessert altogether!

Strawberry Angel's Mess

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

About 1/3 of an angel food cake, sliced and cut into 1-inch or smaller pieces

2 cups hulled and diced fresh strawberries

1-3/4 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup, divided

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, or crème fraîche, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

4 to 6 strawberries, cut into fans, for garnish, one per serving

Three bowls of berries, whipped cream and toasted cake chunks
The ingredients are all prepped and ready to combine. I decided
later that more strawberries than I have here would be better,
so the recipe reflects that.

Instructions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the cake pieces on a parchment-paper-covered baking sheet, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the pieces are crunchy on the outside but still soft in the middle. Remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, stir the 1-3/4 tablespoons sugar and the lemon zest into the diced strawberries in a bowl, and set aside for at least 5 minutes to macerate.

In a medium bowl, whip together the cream, 1/4 cup sugar and the mascarpone or alternate you've chosen, until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.

If desired, prepare the dessert ahead to this point and keep everything separate until ready to serve.

When it's time for dessert, set out the individual glasses or bowls. Fold the macerated strawberries into the whipped cream mixture and then fold in the cake pieces. Fill the dishes, top each with a strawberry fan, and serve.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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