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GOOD COOKING

Just Desserts

April 05, 1998|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spring desserts suggest bright, light flavors--lemon, strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb--the guiding principle of the following desserts.

Unflavored gelatin--an incredibly useful ingredient when used judiciously--gives each of these desserts just the right flow or thickness without being noticeable. Mix it into a cold liquid as directed in the recipe. Once it is absorbed, it must be dissolved in a hot mixture before it will thicken as desired when the dessert is chilled.

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Mandel's latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996).

PASSOVER SPONGE LAYER CAKE WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

CAKE

1/2 cup matzo cake meal

1/2 cup potato starch

1 cup sugar

7 eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

3 1/2 tablespoons melted shortening or canola oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

STRAWBERRY SAUCE

4 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon lemon juice

ASSEMBLY

1 cup heavy whipping cream, lightly sweetened and whipped, optional

2 tablespoons powdered sugar, optional

CAKE

Sift matzo cake meal, potato starch and 1/3 cup sugar onto wax paper 2 times. If small amount of meal doesn't pass through sieve, use anyway. Set aside.

Beat egg yolks with additional 1/3 cup sugar and orange zest until very thick and light yellow, about 10 minutes. Slowly add shortening in thin stream with mixer running. Add orange and lemon juices and lemon extract and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

Whip egg whites with salt until foamy. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon at a time with mixer running and beat until glossy peaks form. Do not over-beat. Stir 1/4 egg whites into batter with wooden spoon until well mixed. Fold in remaining egg whites with rubber spatula.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (8- or 9-inch) round cake pans lined with greased parchment or wax paper. Spread with spatula to make smooth.

Bake at 350 degrees until well browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 18 minutes for 9-inch cakes and about 20 minutes for 8-inch cakes. Cool in pans on rack. When cool, remove from pans and remove paper liners.

STRAWBERRY SAUCE

Puree 2 1/2 cups strawberries, 1/3 cup sugar, gelatin and lemon juice in blender or food processor. Taste for sweetness and add remaining sugar if desired.

Pour into saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 1/2 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 cups strawberries. Remove from heat and pour into bowl. Refrigerate until well chilled and slightly thickened, at least 6 hours or as long as 2 days.

ASSEMBLY

Place 1 cake layer flat (bottom) side up. Spoon on 1 cup strawberry sauce. Top with remaining layer, top side up. Spread whipped cream over entire cake, if desired. (Cake can be refrigerated for several hours. Let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.)

Press powdered sugar through fine sieve over top of cake if desired. Pass remaining Strawberry Sauce separately.

12 to 14 servings. Each of 14 servings:

195 calories; 74 mg sodium; 106 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 32 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.40 gram fiber.

CREAMY LEMON MOUSSE AND RASPBERRY SAUCE

MOUSSE

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

SAUCE

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries in syrup

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup raspberries

MOUSSE

Sprinkle gelatin over lemon juice in small bowl. Set aside.

Whip eggs, sugar and zest with electric mixer until thick and pale in color, about 3 minutes.

Cook egg mixture in top of double boiler over simmering water, whisking constantly, until hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice mixture. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl. Stir in mascarpone cheese.

Refrigerate until well chilled and slightly thickened. Fold in whipped cream. (Mousse can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.)

SAUCE

Puree raspberries with syrup in blender or food processor. Strain to remove seeds. Stir in sugar. (Sauce can be made 2 to 3 days ahead and refrigerated covered with plastic wrap.)

Put 2 scoops mousse per serving on shallow plates. Rinse scoop in hot water between scoops. Spoon sauce over and garnish with raspberries. Serve immediately.

10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings:

163 calories; 35 mg sodium; 76 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.68 gram fiber.

RHUBARB-BERRY FOOL RHUBARB-BERRY MIXTURE

(no fat)

2 large stalks rhubarb, unpeeled and diced

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon water

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries in syrup

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

ITALIAN MERINGUE

3 tablespoons water

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg whites, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

18 raspberries

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