French dessert rises to the occasion

April 28, 1993|By Faye Levy | Faye Levy,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

A favorite springtime dessert in France is a light strawberry savarin. One of the most elegant of classic cakes, this ring-shaped dessert is created from an easy-to-make batter.

The cake gains its lightness from yeast, but is different from other yeast-leavened cakes; savarins are moist and delicate and not chewy. Thus they are served for dessert rather than as breakfast pastries or coffeecakes.

In addition, the dough requires no kneading -- the batter is beaten. At a cooking school in Paris, I was taught to make the batter by beating it with a wooden spoon, but I prefer to make it with a mixer or a food processor.

In France, savarin dough is baked as individual cakes in several forms, such as bucket-shaped babas or boat-shaped barquettes. I also make it into cupcakes, or as a new version of the all-American favorite, strawberry shortcake.

The unique quality of these cakes is that they are super-moist. Their spongy, light texture enables them to easily soak up a generous amount of spirited syrup, which gives the cake a delightful texture. Small cakes are dipped in syrup; the syrup is ladled over larger cakes.

Traditionally, the syrup is spiked with rum; Kirsch, Grand Marnier and curacao are also popular. If you're serving the cake with berries, moisten it with raspberry brandy. Use peach-flavored brandy with a cake that is garnished with peaches or nectarines, or creme de cacao for a subtle chocolate accent. You can add the spirits directly to the syrup, but it's better to sprinkle it on the cake just before serving so it doesn't evaporate. For an %o alcohol-free dessert, flavor the syrup with vanilla, citrus zest and juice or fresh ginger.

As cakes go, savarin is rather light in butter -- it is enriched with only seven tablespoons in a cake that makes 12 to 14 servings. And it's a practical dessert for busy schedules. The cake keeps well; it can be baked and moistened with syrup several days ahead. The only last-minute touches required are sprinkling the cake with spirits and garnishing with fresh fruit.

Strawberry savarin

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

This cake is beautiful and delicious on its own, but if you would like a rich accompaniment, serve it with chocolate-flavored or raspberry brandy whipped cream.

savarin dough (recipe follows)

savarin syrup (recipe follows)

3 cups strawberries, quarteredlengthwise

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons framboise (clear raspberry brandy)

Prepare savarin dough and let rise. Generously butter 5-cup ring mold. Transfer dough to mold and smooth top. Cover and let rise in warm place 25 minutes.

Uncover dough and let rise 15 to 30 minutes longer or until it reaches top of mold. Bake on center shelf at 400 degrees, or until dough comes away from side of pan, top is browned and wooden pick inserted into cake comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes. Invert cake onto a rack and cool completely. (Cake can be kept 3 days in airtight container at room temperature, or it can be frozen.)

Prepare savarin syrup. Set cake rack above rimmed tray. Place cake on rack, with firm crust side down. Slowly and evenly ladle hot syrup over cake until it absorbs as much syrup as possible. Let stand 2 minutes. Return syrup from tray to saucepan and reheat to simmer, but do not overheat or it will caramelize. Moisten cake again with reheated syrup. Repeat a few more times, until cake absorbs most of syrup. Gently brush sides of cake with syrup. Let cake stand 30 minutes. Using 2 wide metal spatulas, carefully transfer cake to platter.

Combine strawberries in bowl along with sugar and with 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons framboise. Mix gently using rubber spatula. Cover and refrigerate 15 minutes. Spoon berry mixture into center of ring. (Cake can be kept, covered, 1 hour in refrigerator.) Just before serving, slowly spoon remaining 2 tablespoons framboise over cake.

Savarin dough

Makes enough for 5-cup ring mold or 16 cupcakes.

1 ( 1/4 -ounce) package active dry yeast (about 1 tablespoon)

1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups flour

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 14 pieces, at room temperature

To make dough with mixer: Sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl; add 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand 10 minutes (until foamy).

Sift flour into bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Add 2 eggs, salt and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix briefly at low speed until a few tablespoons flour are drawn into egg mixture. Add yeast mixture and remaining 2 eggs. Mix at low speed until dough is blended, about 10 minutes, occasionally scraping down dough. Beat at medium speed until dough is smooth, about 12 minutes. Dough will be soft and sticky.

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