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cherry mess

Faced with an overload of cherries, I had no choice but to make a mess. On a trip to London, and at a dinner in Paris, I was served a couple of messes, an English dessert that traditionally incorporates whipped cream, crumbled meringues, and berries. But like most messes (present company included), they can often go in unusual – and unpredictable – directions.


Over the years, it’s evolved and I’ve seen versions that use everything from stewed rhubarb to tropical fruits. Since we are smack-dab in the middle of cherry season, I can’t resist hauling as many as I can carry home and eating them right off the stem. I keep buying several kilos of cherries at a time while other market shoppers around me are having the vendors weigh little brown paper sacks, most containing a mere poignée (handful) of cherries, and they seem to be content with that.


I made a mess – actually, I made four – for Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet – July 14th, (or la Fête Nationale), as they say in France. On a slightly related story, a few years ago I was in the Bastille and some tourists sidled up to me and asked, in halting French, where they could find the Bastille prison. I felt bad telling them that the prison was no longer there – aka the French Revolution – but told them there were remnants of it used to build another greatly feared institution that now rests there: un banque.

Folks from afar also ask me what traditional foods are eaten in France on Bastille Day and to be honest, there aren’t any – at least that I know of. All the articles I read about what to eat on Bastille Day are interviews with French chefs who live in America (or American chefs who live in America), who make special meals for their restaurants, in America.


In France, it’s a day of picnics or whatever; there doesn’t seem to be any cohesive “menu” items, although just to be sure, when I asked Romain what people ate on Bastille Day, he looked kind of puzzled, and finally said “Méchoui.” (North African roasted lamb.) Indeed, if you live in the Provinces, the village and town celebrations often feature roasted meat of some sort if there is a communal celebration. But I wouldn’t take that as cast-in-stone and I’m sure the most important thing is to have plenty of wine, especially rosé, on hand.

But basically, people just get together and the day informally marks the start of summer, when the last wave of les vacances kicks in and people desert the cities in droves, leaving the rest of us behind to eat all the cherries. So as I wandered the half-empty market this week by my lonesome, I continued with my weekly cherry haul and felt perfectly comfortable making a mess for this year’s dessert.

glasses for messwhipping cream
candied almondscherry mess

I made a version with both cherries and almonds, two flavors that go particularly well together. If you’re not a fan of almonds, simply use vanilla in its place. That’s the good thing about being an adult – you can do whatever you want.

cherry compote

Most of the components can be made in advance. You can make the cherry compote a day before; a leisurely rest will give the juices time to thicken nicely. The candied almonds and the meringues can be made up to five days ahead, and each can be stored in a separate air-tight container at room temperature, so you can enjoy spending more time with friends, whatever and wherever you’re celebrating.

cherry mess

Cherry Mess

Feel free to swap out fresh berries for the cherries; hulled and quarter strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries all are good. Toss them in a generous sprinkle of sugar, and perhaps a spoonful of kirsch. If using berries, you can fold some of them into the cream with the meringues to make a more cohesive “mess.” (But if you fold the cherries into the cream, because they are so juicy, them will make the cream too loose and affect the color.) To take it easy, you can buy and use pre-made meringues, although since I always seem to have extra egg whites on hand, I make them myself. Because it’s hard to make meringues with just one egg white, you will have extra meringues left over; extras can crumbled over ice cream or frozen for future use.

Cherry Compote

  • 1 pound (450g) fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 1/4 cup (50g) sugar
  • A few drops almond extract
  • optional: red wine

Candied Almonds

  • 1 cup (80g) sliced almonds, (blanched or unbalanced)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • pinch of salt


  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Whipped Cream

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons amaretto (almond-flavoured liqueur), or to taste

For the cherry compote

  • Put the cherries in a saucepan with the sugar and add a pour of red wine, just enough to make a film on the bottom of the pot. (You can also use water, adding just a tablespoon.) Heat the cherries over medium heat, covered, checking and stirring them frequently until they are completely cooked through and softened, about 10 minutes. (As they cook, they can foam up and spill over – so be sure to keep a close eye on them.) Transfer the cherries to a bowl and set aside, or refrigerate until ready to use.

For the candied almonds

  • Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160º C.) Spray or lightly coat a baking sheet with vegetable oil. Heat the water and sugar in a skillet until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds and a pinch of salt, until well coated.
  • Scrape the almonds onto the baking sheet, break up any large clumps, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking so they toast evenly. Remove from oven when golden brown and crisp, and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight container until ready to use.

For the meringues

  • Reduce the heat of the oven to 225ºF (110ºC.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a clean, dry bowl, or with a stand mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed with a pinch of salt until they start to hold their shape. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, while continuing to whip, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is stiff and shiny. Whip in the almond extract.
  • Divide the meringue into 6 mounds on the baking sheet, then flatten each one into a disk with a spatula or the back of a spoon. (Dipping the utensil in water, then shaking off the excess, will help keep the meringue from sticking.)
  • Bake the meringues for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and let the meringues continue to remain in the oven with the door closed, to dry out further, until they are cool.

For the whipped cream and assembly

  • In a chilled bowl, whip the cream until it holds its shape when the lift the whisk. Whip in the sugar and the amaretto liqueur until the whipped cream is thickened, but not too stiff.
  • To assemble the desserts, choose four wine glasses or other vessels. Spoon some of the cherries in the bottom of each glass with a little bit of the juices. Crumble 3 or 4 of the meringues into rough 1-inch (3cm) pieces and fold them into the whipped cream – the cream should be pretty-well riddled with meringue pieces. Spoon some of that mixture over the cherries in the glasses and add a bit of candied almonds over the cream.
  • Continue to layer each glass with more cherries, a bit of their syrup, more cream with crumbled meringues in it, and a few candied almonds, however you wish, ending with a few cherries and some of their syrup on top. Sprinkle each mess with a scattering of candied almonds and serve.


Variations: If you’re not a fan of almond flavoring, substitute vanilla extract for the amaretti liqueur in the whipped cream, to taste. For those fortunate to have access to fresh sour cherries, replace some of the sweet cherries in the compote with pitted sour cherries. Similarly, you can add a handful of dried sour cherries to the fresh (sweet) cherries, adding them toward the end of cooking.


    • Dr. CaSo

    This looks so good it almost makes me want to start cooking again! All the flavors and textures I love, beautiful!!!

    • Bernice

    It’s 11:40 pm and I have just read this post. Now I want cherry mess!!
    I even have fresh cherries in the fridge, straight from the Okanagan region of British Columbia.
    Pure torture Mr. Lebovitz, thanks!

    • Deb

    David, this is fabulous!! I am not much of a cook but will soon be moving into a new place that may afford me the opportunity to so some…so I am trying this one out!

    • godwinkr

    I love meringues–I think of messes as the even-lazier version of a pavola (pavlovas are just as easy as this recipe, just trickier to serve nicely). I’m a fan of parfait glasses and yours are lovely. Okay, I’m up for makin’ a mess this week!

    • Fabio

    Ah, a variation on the very posh Eton Mess! And it looks wonderful!

    • J. Aerts

    I am wondering how you pit your cherries… can you let us know your best technique? (I dont own a cherry pitter)

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I fell in love with this cherry pitter a few years ago and haven’t looked back – that’s my best technique!

      (Folks without a cherry pitter can cut them in half with a paring knife and squeeze out the pits, or else unbend a paperclip and use that to extract the pits.)

        • Beth Bochnak

        The paper clip works really well. There are instructions on line.

    • Jyoti

    Those glasses are just so pretty, so is the mess and I have loads of cherries too ( though I have to admit I am one of those “cherries in a little brown sack people” .. I do not like meringue, also cos I once had the horrible experience of meringue smelling strongly of eggs ( perhaps cos they were free range they were so strong, who knows!) Since I have some Polvorones at hand, Im gonna crush and add them in for texture..Lets see where that goes.. Or you could suggest an alternative..? I could just leave them out and make a Fool.. Ah the decisions you force us to make Monsieur..

    • Ilona

    Thanks one mess I’d happily clean up!

    @jyoti perhaps substitute large amaretti cookies instead of the plain meringues?

    • Monica

    So happy to see a dessert recipe from you. Looks beautiful and delicious!

    • Lacey @ the skipping stones

    Great recipe, David. It’s very pretty and I’ll point out it can be a low-GI dessert (depending on how much sugar you use, of course). I’ve made this before but used raw almonds instead of candied almonds and raw honey (in place of sugar) for the compote.

    • Margiie

    If I find myself in a mess, I’ blaming it all on you!

    Missed your blog so much. Been away for awhile and I come back to this fine mess. ;)

    Glad I’m back, glad you are well. Love your blog much as ever. I have much to catch up on. :)

    • Sylvia

    We had to pit a mess of cherries the other day without a pitter. I tried the knife technique — too long. The paper clip technique and/or knitting needle technique — too tricky.

    Then my husband remembered how we’d pitted a huge mess of olives a while before — a cutting board, two bowls and aprons. Put the cherry (or olive) on the cutting board, give it a light mash with the thumb, just enough to split the flesh, pick out the now slightly separated pit, put pit in one bowl and pit-free flesh in the other bowl (don’t mix up the bowls!). The aprons are necessary unless you’re wearing something you don’t mind getting splattered with indelible juice.

    • Denise@Little Market Kitchen

    Seeing as I went cherry picking and brought home over 11lbs of cherries a few weeks ago, gallon size bags of which are now dominating most of my tiny Manhattan freezer (only after I pitted them all by hand!), I may very well be trying this recipe soon!
    Your meringues look lovely by the way!

    • Nazima

    I love this variation. Adding some crunch with almonds is a great idea. I have seen some places add a kind of nut brittle but I like the way you have presented it here. As for a cherry pitter it was always one of those things I never thought I would use enough but clearly it makes for an easier cherry baking / cooking experience so I shall have to go find one

    • Laurie

    I have made a mess with raspberries and purchased meringues, and it was divine. We had it for dessert on Christmas Day–perfect after a heavy meal, and the prettiest color! I know it would be even more delish with homemade meringues and cherries. I’ll do that next time.

    Thanks, David, for your always lovely photos and witty comments!

    • Terry

    I love every element of this, and I love layered desserts – perfection! I’ve been making lots of ice cream this summer and while I know I can freeze the egg whites, I just don’t. My freezer is like an arctic no man’s land as it is, so I incorporate the egg whites into my pups’ food – they love it and it’s good for their coats.

    HOWEVER, I DO make meringues every once in a while, and this has motivated me to make a mess this weekend. Why not freeze another batch of ice cream at the same time. Two stones and all that, you know.


    • Claudia

    I adore a good mess – they’re so much fun to eat.

    But making them is not something I do in summer because I have dreadful luck with meringues in the humidity of our summers. The results have been inconsistent and frankly, I don’t even bother any more unless the temperature is below 26 degrees and it’s not humid.

    Do you have a summer and/or humid day trick for helping to both get good volume in the egg whites and properly crisping them up?

    If so, I’m off to buy cherries!! (but not almonds. I don’t like almonds.)

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It’s been pretty humid here (around 70%), and hot, and I didn’t have problems, but one thing you can do is replace some of the granulated sugar with powdered sugar, and fold that in at the end. It contains a bit of cornstarch and that helps absorb moisture. Hope that helps ~

    • Fran

    This is the kind of mess I’m always willing to help clean up. Won’t
    even ask for help.

    • Angela

    Cherry tip: cook them with the pits in, cool until easy to handle, and with clean hands gently squeeze each one and the pit will pop out. I hear you get a little more cherry flavor this way and I know it the task is much faster this way.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      That’s a good idea for extracting the pits. However it bring up an interesting question that I was discussing with some friends the other night: Does keeping the pits in enhance the flavor? (In French clafoutis, they often leave them in.) I am skeptical because the shell is pretty tough and thick, and I don’t think any of the kernel aroma could pass through it. Someone (else) should do a side-by-side blind tasting.. would be interesting to know the results!

    • Chris

    I’ve heard of pitting cherries by putting one on top of a narrow bottle (coke, wine, etc) and poking the pit through with a chopstick. Anybody ever try that?

    Of course great-aunt Martha just left the pits in when she made a pie. And didn’t always warn people…

    • rainey

    Doesn’t the meringue go all gloppy in the whipped cream?

    • Caroline

    This looks delicious! I have all of the ingredients so will make it tonight. I have frozen egg whites from making icecream. Do you have a quick way you thaw your egg whites?

    BTW, we were in Paris last week and had amazing cherries jubilee with vanilla icecream at Le Miroir in Montmartre!

    • Suzanne Hamlin

    David, what a global enticement–wonderful to hear that cherries are not only in season here (Hudson Valley, NY), there and apparently everywhere else–at the same time! Right now, in the HV we have good access to both Bing cherries and Ranier cherries (both imports from CA/Oregon, of course, but still..)
    I’m in a state of Deja vu all over again, remembering 46 years ago, during a torrid –and mostly deserted–August in Paris four flights up on rue de la chat in a bed sitter, living on cherries, baguettes and pate. Unfortunately I never learned Parisian restraint–and still can eat a pound of cherries over the course of a day.
    As for your Oxo cherry pitter: I beseech you fellow cherryites: a $13 investment that verges on life-changing. I’ve got zip-lock bags of pitted cherries in the freezer right now, waiting for..well, maybe a Mess. Also: they are terrific snacks, right out of the freezer. David: can we call you Cherie?

    • Susan

    on the other hand………just make the compote and squish out the seeds when it is cool, ever so easy/lazy!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Always think meringues are too sweet to eat by themselves but throw in some whipped cream and fruit and the whole thing is quite heavenly together. And kudos to you for pitting all those cherries…

    • Nancy Eddy

    Could you help an inept fan? When I go to print out this recipe, it says it is 22 pages. Far too many, of course. My other favorite blog, Food52, let’s me click on just the recipe itself, so I don’t have to scroll down and try and figure out just which pages I need. Many thanks! You have so many really great recipes! (And I have cherries in the frig.)

    • Susan Mills

    I cannot find the place to send a comment or ask a question about a recipe I have tried…am I missing something?
    I tried your lemon yogurt cake which was delicious, however, I used a silicone baking pan and the bottom became very dark and it seemed to take a bit longer to bake.
    Do you recommend silicone or another way to keep from overbaking this delicious cake?

    • Lynda

    Nancy – just copy and paste the recipe text to a text or Word document and print it that way. If you try and print the page, it probably prints the entire blog post and comments, which is why you’re ending up with 25 or so pages!

    Cherries are my favourite fruit. I’m not sure a bag will last long enough to make this, but I’ll try.

    • Jane

    Aren’t these wonderful? I just got back from England where I ordered a Strawberry Pimm’s mess because the name was so much fun and it had Pimm’s in the title and when in England in the summer Pimm’s is a must. The one I ordered had berries soaked in the liquor and then layered with meringue, whip cream and if that wasn’t enough, they threw some clotted cream in for good measure. Oh my gosh, it was so yummy. Hmmm, wonder if it had anything to do with the 5 pounds I gained? No, I think that must have been the cider, beer and the proper Pimm’s drinks.

    Thanks David for the recipe! I like the addition of the nuts too!

    • Sarahb1313

    Ok. So we’ve got meringue. Cherries. Nuts. Perfection- seriously.

    I have been dying to make meringues but the humidity right now is just thwarting the whole craving. I will try the confectioners sugar- I am desperate! The Macarons seem to hold up pretty well, so I will be optimistic!

    This is serious fruit and nut season. From fruits to crisps to crumbles I am in heaven. The it happened- I was scoping out you book, Ripe for Dessert, and I was gifted a copy for my birthday!! I think I am good now through till late holiday season…. except for the meringue part.

    • Chandler In Las Vegas

    Oh, Daveed, it’s like dacquoise in a cup!

    • Phyllis

    I bought one of those OXO cherry pitters a month ago. They are amazingly well-made and also pit olives swiftly and thoroughly. LOVE it!

    • Laura

    These look so tasty! Even though the word “mess” is in the name, I’ve always thought these look so pretty.

    • johanna

    oh my goodness! this is a rockin’ post-
    the ‘mess’ pun is too funny and you’ve given me 3-4 recipes in one!
    thanks for the specifics on the meringues-i have been afraid to make them, but i think i’ll try them tonight now-
    this is a great dessert!!

    thanks :)

    • Ivan

    Hi! After reading this awesome piece of writing, I’m well delighted to share this with colleagues. Your thoughts were well-made and I say you could improve on that. Continue what you’re doing and keep us updated. Thank you.

    • parisbreakfast

    Everytime I go to London I see these ‘messes’ while combing Sainsbury but never tried one. Plus it is time to stop gobbling cerises and do something constructive.
    Merci David!

    • Bobbie

    David, are the yellow/red cherries Rainiers, or are they a French variety? Here in Oregon, it’s cherries & berries galore at the Farmer’s market!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Susan: That question is answered here.

    Bobbie: They’re Rainier cherries.

    Suzanne and Phyllis: I’ve tried a lot of cherry pitters and the OXO one really is the best. I never use the other ones I’ve collected anymore…

    • Lore

    I’ve found the cherries to be exceptionally good this year in France. I have a bowl out on my kitchen counter and every time I walk through I pop a few in my mouth. I work from home so this happens pretty often :)

    • Ilke

    I wish I was lucky enough to find sour cherries. I like it how laid back this dessert is.

    • Mallory

    I may have to make this before cherry season wraps up here…which unfortunately is coming much too soon!

    • Agnieszka

    Beautiful pictures. A wonderful dessert.

    • shelleyorama

    i got here too late to make a ‘mess’ joke – they’re all taken! : (
    however not too late to make dessert : D

    for an ice cream version, I’m wondering how pleasantly – or not – crushed meringue would freeze …

    • Steve

    As to the cherry pits in the clafoutis, I suspect that they were originally left in because they were a bit difficult to remove. Computer techies would refer to this as “taking a bug and calling it a feature”. Still, people must have disliked the idea of risking the fracture of a tooth from an unexpected cherry pit. As better cherry pitters have been developed, almond extract has added to cherry recipes to cover for the nutty taste that cherry pits would add.

    As to cherry pitters, with all due respect to David, I rather like this one:
    Though it is called a “cherry and olive pitter”, it is clearly not sturdy enough for olives, as is noted by the comments on the Amazon website. For cherries, however, it really does the job.

    • Salih Seckin Sevinc

    Looks fantastic. The best mess I’ve ever seen.

    • David Hogman

    I love cherries and will try this recipe soon. The pictures look great and the dessert looks delicious. Thank for sharing the recipe..

    • Candace

    This looks absolutely brilliant. It’s a little muggy here for meringue making (let alone whipped cream), but I’ll have a glass of wine and get to it.
    Thank you for the amazing recipe.

    • Catherine

    Thank you for this recipe!
    Served it yesterday evening, un délicieux succès!
    It’s always a pleasure to read your blog, thank you again.

    Salutations de la Provence

    • PetiteCandela

    que buena pinta…habrá que intentarlo

    • Sarah | The Woks of Life

    looks amazing. I may try this with the blackberries I bought today!

    • Florence

    It reminds me of when I make pavlova. This looks a bit easier since you can make a “mess” of it.

    • Julia {dinners with friends}

    Long live the cherry picker – although I am intrigued to sign up for the side-by-side blind taste test {pitted vs. non-pitted}.

    I keep pits in for a classic clafoutis recipe, but pit the cherries for crostata baking and all other desserts.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, if you do try it, let us know how it turns out. I can’t imagine the aroma of the cherry pits getting through those tough shells.

    • Olga

    I made this dessert last weekend. OH MY GOD!!! I didn’t want to share it with my guests – that’s how good it was! Everything was in absolutely perfect balance, the sweetness, the textures that played off each other. It was divine! I printed the recipe and added it to my dessert recipe collection. Thank you so, so much, David!

    • Sara

    How far in advance can these be assembled? (I’d like to have them already prepared before our guests arrive.) Thanks!

      • Olga

      All components except for the whipped cream can be done ahead of time. In fact, cherry compote flavor improves if it is prepared a day or two ahead. I prepared the meringues two days ahead, and the cherry compote and the nuts 1 day ahead. The dessert was a BIG hit!

    • Kristin

    We had a bumper crop of wild cherries this summer in the Finger Lakes region
    of western NY state. My husband and I picked 63 pounds!!! From the roadside!!! And pitted them all with paper clips!!! We got pretty good at it, about 5 pounds an hour. Most are in the freezer but I also canned 6 quarts and have made clafoutis, pies, buckles and crisps. I’m a huge fan of the Basque cherry cake, so that is on the menu along with this mess. Also, Maida Heatter has a delicious recipe for a honey parfait which I often layer with cherry preserves, subbing almond extract for her vanilla. It’s a frozen dessert and is divine.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yowza! What a haul! A reward for all your hard work (I assume the 5# per hour didn’t include pitting..) They freeze really well whole, too. Enjoy the bounty!


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