Thursday, May 11, 2006

Strawberry Extravaganza

I don't know if some of you can relate to this, but I am sometimes taken by a baking frenzy, making one dessert after another when we've hardly had a chance to finish the last one. This takes a double toll on my family; not only do they have to consume copious amounts of sugar over a short period of time, but there are days when dinner time finds us with a sinkful of piled dishes, several desserts in the refrigerator and no real food to put on the table. Since ours is a household with three kids, it is not an option to "let them eat cake!" Cook dinner I must, even if it is a super fast one. On the brighter side, such culinary inspiration strikes me only once or twice a year, and I return to my fairly responsible adult self once it is over.

These days, I am emerging from one of these intense periods of kitchen activity, worn-out but satisfied. I tried a myriad of new things, many of which were not from cookbooks. At times such as this, I do not feel like following recipes, or taking down notes on what I did; I just go with the flow and stop only when I am done. I sometimes scribble down some notes afterwards; and in many cases, the details are completely forgotten. As you might have guessed, I am writing this in the way of an apology for the lack of recipes in what's to follow.

There is no other fruit that says spring to me more than strawberries. So I splurged and made four desserts for this month's Turkish blog event featuring strawberries. I also had two strawberry charlottes that I had made earlier but could not post. You'll notice that almost all of these desserts pair strawberries with white chocolate. This is partly because I had a lot of white chocolate leftover from the wedding cake I made, but also because I think they complement each other very well.

Without further ado, here are the desserts with their pictures, short descriptions and sources whenever I used them:

Strawberry and White Chocolate Cake

I made this cake with two store-bought cake layers. The outside decoration idea was inspired by Keiko's wonderful "Pretty in White" cake. I wanted to make a giant white chocolate cabbage for the top (which I saw in Alice Medrich's Cocolat.) However, when I realized that the white chocolate dough needs a long rest before it can be shaped, I decided to finish the cake with more white chocolate sheets. I was initially worried that the cake might be difficult to cut because of the sheets; but once equipped with a heated sharp knife, I experienced no problems. This was a delicious cake (or charlotte) and the chocolate sheets added a nice crunch. (The sheets were smoother on the other side, but I preferred the textured look.)

Strawberry Basket Cake

I had surprising results with this cake. I used two white butter cake layers and two dacquoise layers sandwiched together with mascarpone cream. The sides were covered with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream (RLB's Cake Bible) using basket weave frosting technique. In this case, I flavored the mascarpone cream with some strawberry sauce -- just enough to impart a pale pink color and a subtle strawberry flavor. By next day, when I cut the cake, most of the color had vanished. But this did not surprise me as much as the disappearance of the dacquoise layers. It was quite a disappointment because I had hoped to achieve a textural contrast --of the kind the Aztec Cake provided-- with these dacquoise layers, but they were nowhere to be found. What they left behind was a caramel flavored second layer of cream between the butter cake layers. My testers enjoyed the cake anyway, but this result led me to research more on meringues. At almost the same time, I found out that one of my Turkish blog readers as well as Astrid of La Cerise experienced similar results with meringue cake layers. I am still researching, and I plan to devote a post to this subject as soon as I know enough about it.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Tartlets

I made these just to see how strawberries would look when they were cut and placed at the bottom of the mold. And they looked good! I used my removable-bottom tartlet pans for this project. The white mousse recipe was taken from Alice Medrich's Cocolat. I had some leftover pastry with ammonia from another project and used it to make the crust for the tartlets. Baker's ammonia (not the kind you use to clean the floors) imparts a nice crunch to baked goods and makes it possible to make very thin layers, which soften and expand upon prolonged contact with cream.

Strawberry Sorbet in Caramel Cups

Zeynep and Mehmet helped me with this. In fact, Zeynep made the sorbet. The recipe for the caramel cups is from Alice Medrich's A Year in Chocolate. They are really delicious, but we ended up breaking quite a few in the process of making them. Nobody really complained as this gave us an excuse to snack on the broken pieces. Finally we discovered that encasing the molds with lightly greased tinfoil works better than paper towels (as suggested in the book), and we managed to make 4-5 cups without any accidents.

Low Fat White Chocolate and Strawberry Charlotte

This recipe is from Alice Medrich's Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts. She manages to make the mousse low-fat by omitting cream and using a cooked meringue as the base. It is light and refreshing but you can tell that you are eating a diet dessert. I personally prefer a bite of the real thing to a slice of this.

Another Strawberry and White Chocolate Charlotte

This was the first strawberry dessert of the season that I made. I used store-bought lady fingers (the crunchier kind). The bottom layer was a strawberry mousse with chunks of strawberry folded in, and it was topped with a layer of white chocolate mousse. I think the structure would have benefited from a lady finger layer separating the two mousses. It was a little difficult to cut a neat slice on the day it was made, but it was nicely set and easier to cut after a night in the refrigerator.