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Posts Tagged ‘cakes’

The strawberries are out in full force at the farmer’s markets right now; the bounty coming in from Ventura and Oxnard brings that heady, sweet perfume of fresh berries that wanders along the stalls, enticing you to stop and get a sample of one of those juicy little sugarbombs.  I picked up a 3-pack of some gorgeous, small, deep-red berries that packed a real punch of flavor for their size.

Now, when I have plans for a strawberry dessert, I usually either go with a pie or strawberry shortcake, but I was ready for something new.  I remembered a cake I had made years ago, with layers of meringue, strawberries and whipped cream, and I knew that’s what I wanted to make.

A dacquoise is a type of cake made with layers of nut meringue;  often, it is filled with ganache, mousse, and/or buttercream–Marjolaine is the perfect example of a dacquoise.  I decided to go with a deconstructed version, using freshly made lemon curd as a bright and tart replacement for ganache, sliced strawberries, lightly sweetened whipped cream, and crunchy-chewy almond meringues.

After baking, let the meringue layers cool completely.   This is a dessert, once assembled, that should be served within an hour or two, as the meringue softens after being in contact with the fillings.  However, the meringues can be made the night before, and left to cool in the oven overnight.  The lemon curd can also be made well in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Sure, it’s a little messy, but for this dessert, the point of it is being simple and casual–capturing the essence of early summer, like strawberries in season at the market, sitting outside drinking lemonade, and having a fun dinner with friends out on the patio.

Strawberry & Lemon Dacquoise

Meringue Layers

  • 1 1/4 cups whole almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 275°.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Trace one 8″ diameter circle on to each sheet and turn paper over.
  2. Pulse almonds in food processor with cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground.
  3. Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy, and add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, then gradually beat in remaining sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
  4. Fold ground almonds gently into meringue.  Pipe or spread meringue evenly into the traced circles on parchment.
  5. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.   Slide meringues onto a cooling rack while still on parchment.  When ready to assemble meringues, gently peel parchment off.

Lemon Curd (from marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, zest and egg yolks then whisk in lemon juice and salt.
  2. Add butter and place pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, whisking constantly until butter has melted, mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and small bubble form around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes (do not boil).
  3. Remove pan from heat while continuing to whisk.  Pour curd while still hot through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of curd and refrigerate until cool.

Note:  this recipe makes approximately 2 cups; I found this to be pretty generous for the recipe, and had about 1/2 cup leftover.  Then again, I really don’t see a problem with having some extra lemon curd hanging around the house.

Filling and Assembly

  • 4 cups sliced fresh strawberries, plus 10-12 whole strawberries for decoration
  • 2 cups cold whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla extract until it holds a soft peak.
  2. Place first meringue on a plate and spread about a 3/4 cup of lemon curd across the surface of meringue.
  3. Place half of the sliced strawberries on top of lemon curd.
  4. Spoon 1/3 of whipped cream on top of strawberries, and spread to cover.
  5. Place 2nd meringue layer atop whipped cream and repeat with lemon curd, berries, and 1/3 of the whipped cream.
  6. Top with final layer of meringue, spread remaining whipped cream on top, and decorate with whole berries.
  7. Best served within 2 hours of assembly.

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As you may or may not know, today happens to be Three Kings Day, and Three Kings Day means cake.  Ok, we’re lapsed Catholics and we’re not from Louisiana, so I’m not talking about King Cake;  it’s because it’s my mother-in-law’s birthday;  Reyna’s name comes from the holiday she was born on (Reina is Queen in Spanish… aaaaand now you get the title). 

My in-laws, being from South America, love the traditional kinds of desserts that come  from the homeland:  tropical fruits, flans, and Tres Leches Cake.  Buying a tres leches (“three milks”) cake from a market can be kind of a crap shoot–sometimes it’s overly sweet with a grainy cake and sometimes it’s perfectly rich and creamy, with the cake almost pudding-like, but still standing up to the long soak in the milk mixture. 

My first experiences with Tres Leches Cakes were sad affairs:  mass-produced pieces bought off taco trucks or slices of store-bought birthday cakes at parties thrown by the family, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it.  Then, came the day I sampled the Tres Leches Cake at Border Grill, and all of a sudden, I was a convert.  

I wanted to keep it simple and traditional, but with a twist that I knew my mother-in-law would love:  the addition of coconut.  Coconut works perfectly with a creamy dessert, and it was the absolute right amount of tropical flavor that the whole family loved. 

So, let’s break down the three components needed for a Tres Leches Cake:  the cake, the milk mixture, and the topping. 

The proper cake to use would be a sponge cake;  to tell you the truth, I’m not a fan of the stuff on its own–it’s dry and bland–but, that’s what makes it perfect for other uses, such as being sliced and soaked with liqueur-spiked syrups and layered with jams or pastry creams.  Or, in this case, being soaked in milk.  A traditional sponge cake is simply eggs, sugar, and flour–no extra fats, no chemical leavening, maybe a bit of vanilla;  the rise comes from the eggs being separated, whipped full of air, and gently folded together with the flour. 

Once the cake is baked and fully cooled, the edges are trimmed (I find them a bit too hard).  I line a cake pan with plastic wrap with plenty of overlap, poke the cake full of holes, and begin to pour my mixture of condensed milk, coconut milk, and half & half onto the cake.

When I start pouring the milk mixture onto the cake, I go slow and steady, taking about a third of the mixture and lightly covering the cake.  After about 2-3 minutes, it’s been mostly absorbed, so I repeat the process two more times with the rest.  With the overlap of the plastic wrap, I just lightly cover the cake, and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, the cake gets turned out on a platter; lightly sweetened heavy cream is whipped and spread on top, and a good solid dusting of toasted coconut to finish off the cake. 

(Yeah, I know, that’s not a “dusting”… we like coconut, okay?)

Ah, there’s the glamor shot.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

6 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup vanilla sugar (or, 1 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 14-ounce can light coconut milk

1/2 cup half & half

2 Tablespoons Coconut Rum

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 Tablespoons sugar

2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a 13 x 9 metal cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick spray.
  2. Separate eggs;  beat yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar (add vanilla if needed) until pale yellow and leaves a ribbon when the whisk is pulled from yolks. 
  3. In a separate bowl (or transfer yolks to another bowl and wash mixer bowl, if using a KitchenAid), beat egg whites until just frothy, then add 1/4 cup of sugar and whip egg whites to a stiff peak.
  4. Gently fold egg whites into yolks until streaky, then sift in flour.  Continue to gently fold in flour and egg whites until flour is absorbed into batter.
  5. Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth top.  Bake until golden, approximately 22-28 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.
  7. Line a clean 13 x 9 cake pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overlap (enough to gently fold extra plastic over cake, but well-lined so all the milk stays with the cake).  Trim edges from cake and set into pan.  With a fork or skewer, poke plenty of holes over the surface of the cake.
  8. In a pitcher, whisk together the condensed milk, coconut milk, half & half, and coconut rum.  Pour mixture over entire cake in thirds, waiting 2-3 minutes between each pouring to let the cake soak up the milks.  Fold over the plastic wrap to lightly cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to overnight.
  9. When close to serving, toast coconut in a 350° oven for 7-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until golden brown.
  10. Unwrap cake and gently turn out onto a platter.  Whip heavy cream with sugar and spread on top of cake, and sprinkle the coconut on top of cream. 

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You should know by now that I wouldn’t invite people over for dinner and not serve dessert.  So, in following yesterday’s entry of A Winter Dinner for a Crowd, this is the cake I prepared for our guests. 

Since I was going with a rustic Italian theme for the dinner, I turned to one of my well-loved cookbooks:

I knew there would be a perfect dessert recipe here that would be the right sweet ending for the evening, and the Torta di Mele fit the bill.  It was an unusual cake recipe–most cake recipes start out with creaming butter and sugar, or whipping eggs–this starts with blending flour, sugar and butter together, as if you were making shortbread, and using a portion to press into the bottom of a springform pan to create a thin, crunchy crust.  The rest of crumb mixture is blended with the rest of the wet mixture, leavening and apples which creates a fluffy but moist texture; plenty of lemon zest keeps the flavor light and fresh.  The cake is topped with a very light coating of meringue, when after the cake is baked, creates a crackly sweet top–there is absolutely no need for icing or confectioner’s sugar to finish it off.   All it needs is a big dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream on the side, and maybe a cup of coffee. 

Torta di Mele (Apple Cake with a Crackly Meringue)

from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Generous pinch of salt

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shredded zest of one large lemon

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 large apples (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala are good choices), peeled, cored, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 large egg white

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°.  Grease and flour a 9″ springform pan.  In a large bowl, with your fingertips, rub together the 2 cups flour, the 1 1/2 cups sugar, salt, and butter until crumbly (note:  I just used a pastry blender).  Remove 1 cup of the crumbs and press them over the bottom and about 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan, making a crust about 1/8″ thick.
  2. Make a well in the remaining crumb mixture.  Add the milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, and the baking powder.  With a whisk, blend this mixture thoroughly without incorporating the crumbs.  Then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the crumbs until well blended but still a little lumpy.  Fold in the apples and scrape batter into prepared pan.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg white until foamy.  Beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until the whites barely stand in peaks.  Spread over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes on a wire rack.
  5. Slip off the sides of the pan and finish cooling the cake.  Serve at room temperature.  Covered in plastic wrap, the cake holds well at cool room temperature up to 2 days, and up to a week in the refrigerator. 

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