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Springtime, and the Strawberries Are Easy

April 29, 1993|FAYE LEVY

Strawberry savarin is a favorite springtime dessert in France. This light, ring-shaped dessert, one of the most elegant of classic cakes, is created from an easy-to-make batter.

The cake gains its lightness from yeast but is completely different from other yeast-leavened cakes; savarins are moist and delicate and not chewy. Thus they are served for dessert, rather than as breakfast pastries or coffee cakes.

In addition, the dough requires no kneading--the batter is simply beaten. At a cooking school in Paris, I was taught to make the batter by beating it with a wooden spoon, but I prefer to make it with a mixer or a food processor.

In France, savarin dough is baked either in large cakes or individual ones that can have several forms, such as the bucket-shaped babas or the boat-shaped barquettes . I also make it into cupcakes or, as a new version of the all-American favorite, strawberry shortcake.

The spongy, light texture of savarin means that cakes can soak up a generous amount of spirited syrup, which gives them a delightful texture. Small cakes are dipped in syrup; the syrup is ladled over larger cakes.

Traditionally, the syrup is spiked with rum, but kirsch, Grand Marnier and Curacao are also popular. If you're serving the cake with berries, moisten it with raspberry brandy. Use peach-flavored brandy with a cake that is garnished with peaches or nectarines, or creme de cacao for a subtle chocolate accent. You can add the spirits directly to the syrup, but it's better to sprinkle it on the cake just before serving so it doesn't evaporate. For an alcohol-free dessert, flavor the syrup with vanilla, citrus zest and juice or fresh ginger.

As cakes go, savarin is rather light in butter--it is enriched with only seven tablespoons in a cake that makes 12 to 14 servings. And it's a practical dessert for busy schedules. The cake keeps well; it can be baked and moistened with syrup several days ahead. The only last-minute touches required are sprinkling the cake with spirits and garnishing it with fresh fruit.

To turn these cakes into lavish desserts, accompany them with the finest fruits of the season and a bowl of whipped cream. Depending on the cake's shape, you can present it in different ways. You can slice a round cake or cupcakes in layers and fill and top with fruit and cream. The most spectacular of these desserts is a large, ring-shaped savarin generously filled with colorful fruit and decorated with rosettes of whipped cream or, for a modern variation, chocolate whipped cream.

For further embellishment, brush the cakes with apricot glaze, which makes them shiny and helps to prevent the liqueur from evaporating. Whichever presentation you choose, you will find these cakes to be refreshing springtime treats.

This cake is beautiful and delicious on its own, but if you would like a rich accompaniment, serve it with chocolate-flavored or Raspberry Brandy Whipped Cream.

STRAWBERRY SAVARIN Savarin Dough Savarin Syrup 3 cups strawberries, quartered lengthwise 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons Framboise (clear raspberry brandy)

Prepare Savarin Dough and let rise. Generously butter 5-cup ring mold. Transfer dough to mold and smooth top. Cover and let rise in warm place 25 minutes.

Uncover dough and let rise 15 to 30 minutes longer or until it reaches top of mold. Bake on center oven shelf at 400 degrees until dough comes away from side of pan, top is browned and wood pick inserted into cake comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely. (Cake can be frozen or kept 3 days in airtight container at room temperature.)

Prepare Savarin Syrup. Set cake rack above rimmed tray. Place cake on rack, with firm crust side down. Slowly and evenly ladle hot syrup over cake until it absorbs as much syrup as possible. Let stand 2 minutes. Return syrup from tray to saucepan and reheat to simmer, but do not overheat or it will caramelize. Moisten cake again with reheated syrup. Repeat few more times, until cake absorbs most of syrup. Gently brush sides of cake with syrup. Let cake stand 30 minutes. Using 2 wide metal spatulas, carefully transfer cake to platter.

Combine strawberries in bowl along with sugar and with 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons Framboise. Mix gently using rubber spatula. Cover and refrigerate 15 minutes. Spoon berry mixture into center of ring. (Cake can be kept, covered, 1 hour in refrigerator.) Just before serving, slowly spoon remaining 2 tablespoons Framboise over cake. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Savarin Dough 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast 1/4 cup hot water (110 degrees) 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar 2 cups flour 4 large eggs 1 teaspoon salt 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 14 pieces, at room temperature

To make dough using mixer: Sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and add 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand 10 minutes or until foamy.

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