My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bavarois aux Fruits

For some strange reason, I’ve never really been “into” desserts or have enjoyed sweets for that matter. The idea of enjoying a full meal and then being presented with a sweet food item almost seems bothersome to me. Even chocolate is way down on the list of things I like to eat.

That’s not to say I’ll pass up cheesecake or a slice of coconut cream pie. I just don’t want it at the end of a meal -- a good cup of coffee will do fine, thank you.

About a month ago, I was preparing a full-on Julia meal for eight. I knew that my friend, Steve, really enjoyed desserts – a lot. He’s Swedish so I think a love of sweets is embedded in his DNA.

With that in mind, I wanted to prepare something really special and appealing for dessert. Although I had yet to peruse the dessert section of Mastering, I felt pretty certain that Julia would have some incredible desserts there.

She did. Big time.

We might think of Bavarian cream as the squishy inside of cream doughnuts. Nope. A real Bavarian Cream is a molded dessert in which custard is thickened with gelatin, flavored, and lightened with whipped cream and beaten egg whites. Uncharacteristically for Julia, she really lays on the accolades:

“When properly made, it has a most lovely, light, creamy, velvety quality and ranks as one of the best of the molded desserts.”

If Julia says that about a dessert, then my dessert-loving friend deserved it.

Begin with 7 egg yolks. (Always an encouraging start if you ask me.) Those get beaten with sugar until pale yellow and ribboney. Hot milk is added and it gets simmered until a custard results.

Custard can be a tricky thing and is normally made over a double-boiler to prevent the eggs from over-cooking, resulting in scrambled eggs. Julia instructs us to simmer it directly over moderate heat. That can be done if you’re careful. Be brave, but keep stirring with a watchful eye, and don’t you dare leave the stove. I definitely like to use a rubber spatula to stir it with so that there’s no chance of egg scrambling on the bottom of the pan. If it begins to thicken really quickly or seems too hot (too “steamy”), remove it from the heat and stir rapidly. A nearby ice-bath in which to quickly cool it might be a good idea, but I like to live on the edge and didn’t have one.

Her main recipe is for an orange Bavarian cream but the variation, Bavarois aux Fruits, indicated that one could flavor it with strawberries or raspberries. Since it was spring and strawberries seemed to be everywhere at the markets, I went with that.

When using strawberries, one must puree the berries and strain out the seeds. Normally, I’m not a big fan of straining sauces excessively but it this case, the tiny seeds would have really been intrusive. (I tasted it with the seeds in.) Remember, Julia said it was velvety and so toward the velvety direction I did head.

Gelatin is dissolved into a cup of the strawberry sauce and that is whisked into the custard (which is actually Crème Anglaise). Meanwhile, egg whites are whipped and folded in. Then heavy cream is whipped, flavored with kirsch, and that also is folded in.

It gets molded into a 9-inch springform pan (which I lined with plastic wrap for easy removal) and refrigerated.

Serve with the strawberry sauce and decorate with fresh berries.

Upon taking the first bite, I could see why Julia praised this dessert so much. In my opinion, she wasn’t excessive enough with the enthusiastic acclamations.

This stuff is to be worshipped.

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