The last few months have been a temptation worthy of Beelzebub himself -- I've been testing recipes for a book on desserts and pastry. February began with cold mousses and souffle's to match the snow outside. March brought charlottes, bavarian creams and sherbet and in April it was on to inspecting puff pastry and fruit tarts.
Tasting everything is obligatory, and who can stop at just a taste?
There is one consolation; by Mother's Day the freezer will be laden with ice cream and the refrigerator full of long-lasting ga'teaux like strawberry mousse cake, the checkerboard cake and the ga'teau succes that follow. I'll be able to sit back and relax with enough to entertain at least a dozen guests.
Strawberry mousse cake is designed to display seasonal strawberries at their very best. The mousse is sandwiched between two layers of sponge cake, all assembled in a springform pan, where it can be left for two or three days in the refrigerator before unmolding.
Even more accommodating is ga'teau succes, an undeniably successful combination of almond meringue layered with coffee butter cream. The top is dusted with cocoa and the sides coated with browned almonds. So these ingredients can mellow and the meringue become soft and rich, the ga teau should be made at least a day ahead and can be kept up to three days.
The puzzle of creating checkered squares of contrasting batter in a single cake constantly intrigues cooks and their audience. The solution I've taken is to pipe concentric rings of batter in four layers, then mount them one on another so the checkerboard effect is revealed only when the cake is cut. The classic French chocolate frosting, ganache, which coats the cake, gives no clue to the fanciful interior.
All of these ga'teaux can be prepared days ahead, but the timetable is deceptively short, for each one takes a good deal of time.
Up to 3 days ahead: Make checkerboard cake and keep in refrigerator. (Make ga'teau succes and refrigerate).
Up to 2 days ahead: Make strawberry mousse ga'teau and keep in refrigerator.
One hour before serving: Unmold strawberry mousse ga'teau, add strawberry slices and let stand at room temperature.
Shortly before serving: Make coffee and brew tea. STRAWBERRY MOUSSE GA'TEAU (6 to 8 servings)
Half mousse, half cake, this is a favorite new-style dessert. The decor is severely plain, with thin slices of strawberry and a mirror-smooth topping of jelly.
10-inch round sponge cake
2 tablespoons kirsch
FOR THE STRAWBERRY MOUSSE:
4 tablespoons water
1/4-ounce envelope gelatin
1 cup cream
1 pint ( 1/2 pound) strawberries
2 egg yolks
7 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch
1 cup (10 ounces) strawberry or red currant jelly
5 to 6 large strawberries (for decoration)
Split cake horizontally and trim each round to fit a 9-inch springform pan. Line pan with a round of cardboard and set a cake round on top. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon kirsch.
For the mousse: put water in a small pan, sprinkle over gelatin and let stand until spongy, about 5 minutes. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks and chill. Pure'e strawberries in a food processor or blender. There should be 1 cup pure'e.
In a large bowl beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar until mixed. Set bowl over a pan of hot but not boiling water and beat until mixture is light and holds a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted, 8 to 10 minutes. Take from heat and whisk until cool. Stir in strawberry pure'e.
Melt gelatin over low heat and stir thoroughly into strawberry mixture with 2 tablespoons kirsch. Set bowl over ice and chill, stirring gently, until mixture starts to thicken. At once fold in lightly whipped cream. Pour mousse into springform pan, smooth the top and set second cake round on top. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of kirsch, cover and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
Melt jelly with 1 tablespoon water, pour over cake to form an even glaze and leave to set. Strawberry mousse ga teau can be kept 2 days in the refrigerator.
Not more than 1 hour before serving, run a knife around sides of springform pan and unmold ga teau. Cut strawberries into very thin slices and press against layer of mousse to form a scalloped pattern. Let ga'teau stand at room temperature so mousse softens slightly before serving. CHOCOLATE CHECKERBOARD CAKE (8 to 10 servings)
The checkerboard effect is revealed when the cake is cut.
Butter for pans
Flour for sprinkling
FOR THE VANILLA SPONGE CAKE:
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
FOR THE CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE:
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
9 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons brandy or rum (optional)
1/2 cup (5 ounces) apricot jam
FOR THE GANACHE FROSTING:
1 cup cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
Butter four 8-inch cake pans, line base with waxed paper and butter the paper. Sprinkle pans with flour, discarding the excess.
For vanilla sponge cake: sift flour with salt. Put eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until a ribbon trail is formed when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes. Sift flour over egg mixture in 3 batches and fold together as lightly as possible. Make chocolate sponge cake batter in the same way, sifting cocoa together with flour. Fill batters into pastry bags with plain tubes.
With a pastry bag filled with chocolate batter and fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tube, pipe a ring of chocolate batter around edge of one cake pan. With a pastry bag filled with plain batter and fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tube, pipe a round of plain batter inside the chocolate ring. Continue alternating rings of batter until pan is full. Fill remaining pans in same way, starting with a ring of vanilla batter in 2 pans and ring of chocolate batter in the other. Bake cakes in a 350-degree oven until they shrink slightly from sides of pans and spring back when lightly pressed with a finger tip, 30 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile make sugar syrup: heat water and sugar until dissolved, then boil 3 minutes and let cool. When cakes are done, turn them out on a rack to cool, discarding paper. While still warm, sprinkle them with syrup and brandy or rum if using.
To assemble cake: set one cake on a round of cardboard. Melt apricot jam and work it through a sieve to make glaze. Melt glaze, brush it on cake layers and pile one on another, alternating plain and chocolate outer rings.
For ganache frosting: bring cream just to a boil in a saucepan. Take from heat, add chocolate and stir until melted. Leave until cool. Beat, preferably using an electric beater, until frosting is light and very smooth, about 5 minutes.
Spread top and sides of cake with two-thirds of frosting. Fill remaining frosting into pastry bag with medium star tube and pipe rosettes on top. Chill at least 2 hours. Checkerboard cake can be kept 3 days in the refrigerator, or frozen. GA'TEAU SUCCES (6 to 8 servings)
Butter and flour for baking sheet
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup ground almonds
2 tablespoons cornstarch
FOR THE COFFEE BUTTER CREAM:
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons water
4 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons dry instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
Cocoa powder for sprinkling
1/3 cup brown chopped almonds for decoration
Butter and flour a baking sheet, shaking off excess. Mark two 8-inch circles with a pan lid. Alternatively line baking sheet with nonstick silicone paper, drawing circles with a pencil.
Stiffly whip egg whites. Add 4 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until mixture is glossy and holds a soft peak, 30 to 60 seconds. Fold in remaining sugar to make meringue. Fold in vanilla, ground almonds and cornstarch.
Using pastry bag with plain 1/2-inch tube, pipe spirals of meringue to form rounds, starting on the outside edge and working inward. Alternatively spread meringue into rounds with a metal spatula. Sprinkle generously with sugar and bake in a 250-degree oven until firm to the touch and colored pale cream, about 1 hour. Let meringues cool slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Note: If meringue browns too quickly, lower oven heat and prop door open for a few minutes.
For butter cream: in a small heavy saucepan heat sugar with water until dissolved, then boil until syrup reaches soft-ball stage, 239 degrees on a sugar thermometer. Remove from heat and let bubbles subside.
Meanwhile in a medium bowl, beat egg yolks just until mixed. Gradually pour in hot syrup, beating constantly. Note: if using an electric beater, pour syrup in a thin stream between beaters so syrup does not stick to bowl. Beat as fast as possible until mixture is thick and cool. Cream butter and gradually beat into cool yolk mixture. Note: if yolk mixture is warm it will melt butter. Beat in dissolved coffee.
Sandwich meringues and coat sides of ga teau with butter cream, reserving 3 to 4 tablespoons. Generously sprinkle cocoa on top of ga'teau and press browned chopped almonds around the sides. Fill reserved butter cream into pastry bag with a small star tube and pipe small rosettes on top around edge of ga'teau.
Refrigerate the ga'teau at least a day, and up to 3 days, so meringue softens and mellows. The ga'teau also can be frozen.