The last few weeks 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 souffles. March brought charlottes, Bavarian creams and sherbet. In April, I inspected 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 gateaux like Strawberry Mousse Gateau, Chocolate Checkerboard Cake and Gateau Succes. I'll be able to sit back and relax enough to entertain at least 15 guests.
Strawberry mousse cake is designed to display seasonal strawberries at their best. The mousse is sandwiched between two layers of spongecake, all assembled in a spring form pan, where it can be left for two or three days in the refrigerator before unmolding.
Made a Day Ahead
Even more accommodating is Gateau Succes, an undeniably successful combination of almond meringue layered with coffee butter cream. The top is dusted with cocoa powder and the sides coated with browned almonds. The gateau should be made at least a day ahead so these ingredients can mellow and the meringue become soft and rich. It 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 audiences. The solution I've taken is to pipe concentric rings of batter in four layers, then stack them on one another so the checkerboard effect is revealed only when the cake is cut. The classic French chocolate frosting, ganache, which coats the cake, hides the fanciful interior.
DESSERTS FOR MOTHER'S DAY FOR 15
Strawberry Mousse Gateau
Chocolate Checkerboard Cake
Suggested drinks: Coffee, tea or sweet white wine such as Muscat or Sauternes
All of these gateaux can be prepared days ahead, but the time table is deceptively short, for each one takes a good deal of time to make.
Up to three days ahead, make checkerboard cake and refrigerate. Make Gateau Succes and refrigerate.
Up to two days ahead, make Strawberry Mousse Gateau and refrigerate.
About one hour before serving, unmold Strawberry Mousse Gateau and strawberry slices and let stand at room temperature.
Shortly before serving, make coffee and brew tea. STRAWBERRY MOUSSE GATEAU
1 round spongecake, at least 9 inches in diameter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup whipping cream
1 pint strawberries plus 5 to 6 large berries for garnish
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup strawberry or red currant jelly
Split cake horizontally into 2 layers. Trim each layer to fit 9-inch spring form pan, if necessary. Line pan with round piece cardboard. Top with 1 cake layer. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon kirsch. Set aside.
Place 1/4 cup water in small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand to soften, about 5 minutes.
Whip cream to soft peaks. Chill. Hull 1 pint strawberries, then puree in food processor or blender. Reserve. (There should be 1 cup puree.)
Beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar in large mixing bowl until mixed. Set bowl in pan of hot, not boiling, water. Beat until mixture is light and holds ribbon trail when whisk is lifted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk until cool. Stir in strawberry puree.
Melt softened gelatin over low heat. Stir thoroughly into strawberry mixture with 1 tablespoon kirsch. Set bowl over ice to chill, stirring gently until mixture begins to thicken. Fold in whipped cream. Pour mousse into spring form pan. Smooth top. Set remaining cake layer on top. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons kirsch. Cover and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
Melt jelly with remaining 1 tablespoon water. Pour over cake to form even glaze. Let rest until set. Strawberry Mousse Gateau can be kept 2 days in refrigerator.
Not more than 1 hour before serving, run knife around sides of spring form pan. Remove sides of pan. Set gateau on cardboard round on serving plate. Cut remaining whole strawberries into very thin slices and press against layer of mousse around sides of gateau to form scalloped pattern. Let gateau stand at room temperature so mousse softens slightly before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. CHOCOLATE CHECKERBOARD CAKE
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa powder
9 tablespoons water
2 to 3 tablespoons brandy or rum, optional
1/2 cup apricot jam
1 cup whipping cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
Butter 4 (8-inch) cake pans. Line bases with wax paper. Butter paper and flour pans, discarding excess flour.
To make vanilla spongecake, sift 1 cup flour with dash salt. Reserve. Beat 4 eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in mixing bowl with electric mixer until ribbon trail is formed when beaters are lifted, 4 to 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Sift 1/2 cup flour over egg mixture in 3 batches, each time folding together as lightly as possible. Reserve.