When spring arrives it is time to get outside, smell the fresh air, tend the budding garden and enjoy the fruits of the season. Nothing says spring more than juicy, red, strawberries. Their fragrant aroma smells so sweet. When you partner strawberries with cream you have a match made in heaven.
Having been a pastry chef I appreciate an elegant dessert, especially one with an architectural flair. But it has to taste equal, if not better, than it looks or it is not worth making. This dessert succeeds on both fronts and has the added bonus of being surprisingly easy to make for the dramatic results it achieves. It always leaves my guests asking, "How did you do that?"
Basically, this is a sophisticated strawberry shortcake. The base is a delicately flavored almond torte upon which the strawberries rest. They are topped with a mixture of lightly sweetened whipped cream and creme fraiche. The flavor is a a cross between strawberries and cream and strawberries roman-off.
While best eaten the day the dessert is made, it is not difficult to put together. It just needs time to set-up, so plan according. Be sure to use perfectly ripe strawberries for the best taste. This is a perfectly delicious dessert to celebrate all the spring festivities.
Grind blanched almonds in a food processor until very fine. You can use regular almonds, but the torte will have brown flecks from the almond skins.
Melt the butter first, then grind the almonds and whip the egg whites. That will allow the butter to cool slightly before adding it to the whipped egg whites.
Sprinkle a third of the ground almonds over the egg whites and fold gently.
Alternate between the remaining ground almonds and the melted butter in two batches. Don't add all the butter at once or it will sink to the bottom of the bowl and make it difficult to get it completely folded in without losing a lot of volume.
Continue to fold until the mixture is well combined but not deflated.
Spread in the prepared pan. Put in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
The torte will rise during baking then shrink as it cools.
Flip the torte upside down if the top shrinks more than the bottom.
Line the perimeter of the pan with strawberries of equal height. Make sure they touch the sides of the pan and don't go above the rim.
Fill in the rest of the pan with strawberries of equal size. Make sure the strawberries are below the rim of the pan.
Spread the creme mixture over the berries. Use a pastry bag if you prefer. Be sure to fill in all the space between the berries and around the sides.
Smooth the top even with the rim. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Adapted from a Food & Wine magazine article by Alice Medrich from 1988.
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup (100 g) plus 3 tablespoons (45 g) sugar
1 cup (125 g) finely ground blanched almonds
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/90 g) butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 - 16 ounce (454 g) containers of strawberries
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
7 ounces (198 g) creme fraiche
1/4 cup (65 g) apricot jam
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400℉ (200℃). Butter and flour an 8x3 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly add 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar, continue beating until stiff peaks form. Gently, but thoroughly fold ground almonds, butter, and almond extract into the egg whites a little at a time. Spread in pan and bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Cool in the pan on a rake. The torte can be made ahead of time. When completely cooled if not using immediately wrap well in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator up to two days. Make sure to remove the parchment or waxed paper before using the torte.
Wash, dry, and reassemble the springform pan. Place torte in the pan. Flip upside down if need be for the torte to reach the edges of the pan. Wash, dry, and remove stems from the strawberries. Cut berries of equal size in half to line the sides of the pan. Make sure they touch the sides, but don't go above the rim. Fill in with the whole berries. All berries should be stem-side down. They should not go above the rim of the pan either, trim if necessary.
Whip cream until starting to thicken, add the remaining 3 tablespoons (45 g) of sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form. In another bowl beat the creme fraiche until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the creme fraiche.
Spread the creme mixture over the berries. Make sure to fill in all the gaps between the berries all the way to the edge of the pan. Use a pastry bag if necessary. Smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Carefully release springform pan and remove the side of the pan. Warm jam until melted. Add a few drops of water if necessary to make a thin glaze. Brush the almond torte with the glaze and press the pistachios into the base. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The torte is best served the day it is made.
It serves 8.
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