April at last. We’ve crested the hill and it’s all coasting downhill from here, weather wise at least. Life for me seems to have missed the weather’s cue – the last month has been a blur or airports, boring taxes, grant applications, and restaurant work. No complaints, but I’ve missed my time in the kitchen and I realize it’s been almost a month since I posted a recipe here.
To make up for it, I have two recipes to share today – both riffs on desserts I’ve been playing around wtih as part of some recent restaurant work, and perfect sweets to kick off the spring season. The first recipe is an old fashioned trifle made with the classic spring strawberry rhubarb combo. I opted for individual glasses here, but feel free to do a larger version if you have a nice trifle bowl. I know trifle gets a bit of a bad rap (from its jello pudding and cool whip incarnations maybe?), but trust me this would be the star of any summer party. Be warned though – because there are a lot of components at play here, albeit none of them difficult, you might want to save this for a day you feel like spending kicking around the house. (I say this only because yours truly started this little project at 9pm and lived to regret it.)
The second recipe is the complete opposite – a magical concoction of only 3 ingredients which takes almost no work and leaves you with a bowl of sticky caramelly yumminess. Have you all made milk jam before? This was a first for me, and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to try it. Essentially a milk-based caramel, milk jam (“confiture de lait”) is the French cousin to dulce de leche made by cooking together whole milk and sugar until it reduces, thickens to a sour-cream like consistency, and caramelizes. It has a tendency to separate as it cooks, so you finish the process by giving it a quick whirl in the food processor with a touch of vanilla. At which point you can pour it over ice-cream, eat it on oatmeal or French toast, or reach gleefully for the nearest spoon. Enjoy!
For the Sponge Cake
Adapted from Joy of Baking
- 6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 1 cup, 200g granulated sugar, divided
- Finely grated zest of one lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 cup, 100g pastry flour (I used AP and it worked fine)
- ¾ tsp cream of tartar
Line a 10 inch cake pan with parchment paper and leave it un-greased (sponge cakes need to stick to the sides of the pan to “climb” once in the oven.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a stand mixer or using hand-held beaters, beat together the egg yolks with ½ cup of the sugar until they are very pale yellow and fluffy (ribbon stage.) Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and water and mix to incorporate.
Sift together the flour and ¼ cup of the sugar. Re-sift this into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture, but do not fold it in yet – you’ll fold it in with the whites.
Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Add half of the egg whites to the bowl with the flour and yolks and gently fold together. Fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 30-35 minutes or until set, golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack upside down at least 1 hour. Unmold by running a sharp knife around the edge of the pan.
For the Soaking Syrup
- 1 cup chopped strawberries
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- A very good glug of white wine or to your taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend well.
For the Fruit Compote
- 2 cups chopped rhubarb
- 1 cup chopped strawberries
- ½ cup granulated sugar
Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cook over low-medium heat until the fruit is soft and saucy. Chill well,
For the Cream
- One recipe diplomat cream
To Assemble and Serve
- Fresh sliced strawberries
- Thyme sprigs
Have ready a large trifle bowl or at least 6 to 8 parfait dishes.
Cut the cake into several thin strips which will fit in your dishes. Spoon a little soaking liquid in the bottom of your dish(es). Top with a layer of cake. Spoon more soaking syrup over the cake and top this with some of the fruit compote. Place some sliced strawberries around the outside of the dish so they are visible. Top with cream and then another layer of cake.
Repeat until you fill your dish(es) and then garnish with berries and thyme.
Milk Jam (“Confiture de Lait”)
- 2 quarts (1 liter) whole milk plus some extra for thinning
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
Combine the milk and sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the mixture is still simmering, but not in danger of boiling over. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of sour cream and takes on a caramel color – about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Don’t be concerned if the milk jam separates as it cooks, this is normal – it really looks quite disgusting at this point, but should smell wonderful.
Once cooked, add the vanilla and transfer to a blender and process until smooth. At this point, I like to add a little extra milk to thin out the jam slightly so it’s more pourable and reduce its sweetness – use your judgment and add more milk as you see fit. Makes 1 pint of jam (or more depending on how much extra milk is added.) Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.