Easter Sweets Big finishes: Give the holiday dinner a dramatic ending with classic desserts from the fruit, grain and chocolate food groups.

April 03, 1996|By Nick Malgieri | Nick Malgieri,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

You've made all the tough decisions about Easter dinner -- should it be ham or lamb, baby peas or asparagus -- and now comes the fun part. Dessert.

Here are three offerings to choose from, all classics in their own way that promise a spectacular finish to this festive meal.

Pavlova, named for the famous Russian ballerina and allegedly created by an Australian chef in honor of her visit down under, comes from my friend Kyra Effren of Dallas. Ms. Effren tasted the Pavlova during a visit to Australia in the 1960s and has been making it ever since.

Chocolate and chocolate desserts are associated with Easter already, so the chocolate hazelnut cake is a natural for the holiday.

Last is a traditional Neapolitan Easter dessert, pastiera, or grain pie. Beloved by generations of Italian-Americans, the recipe here is the original Neapolitan version.

So celebrate the holiday with a homemade dessert -- a good start to spring.

Vary the mixture of fruit here in any way you wish, though tropical fruits are traditional. This recipe can be adapted for Passover by replacing the cornstarch with 1 teaspoon of potato starch.

Australian Pavlova

Makes 10-12 servings

SHELL:

4 egg whites

dash salt

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

CREAM FILLING:

1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FRUIT: 4 cups peeled fruit, cut into 1/2 -inch slices or diced (mixture may include kiwis, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, mango, papaya and pineapple)

1/4 cup sugar

Set rack in middle of oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and draw 10-inch circle on paper. Invert paper.

To prepare shell, place egg whites and salt in bowl of mixer. Beat on medium until egg whites are white, opaque and just beginning to hold their shape. Add vinegar. Increase to medium-high and slowly add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all sugar is added and meringue is stiff. Beat in cornstarch.

Spread meringue on prepared pan and, using back of spoon, make meringue disk concave in center, spreading from center to sides. Bake meringue shell 5 minutes. Lower heat to 250 degrees and continue baking 1 hour or until meringue is firm, crisp on outside and still slightly moist within. Cool on pan on rack.

When completely cooled, slide spatula or knife between meringue shell and paper to loosen it. For advance preparation, wrap meringue with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

To prepare filling, beat cream with sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until just before serving. Re-whip cream before spreading on meringue.

To prepare fruit, combine sliced fruit in mixing bowl with sugar. Toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Drain fruit well before using.

To assemble, slide meringue shell from paper to flat platter. Spread with filling and top with fruit. For a striking presentation, make concentric rows with one type of fruit in each row.

Substitute any type of nuts in the following recipe, though hazelnuts and almonds are the most fragrant. This recipe can be adapted for Passover by replacing the bread crumbs with the same amount of matzo meal and the butter with parve margarine.

Chocolate hazelnut cake

Makes about 10 servings

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely cut

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

8 large eggs, separated

1 1/3 cups hazelnuts, finely ground in food processor

2/3 cup dry bread crumbs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Set rack in middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease 10-inch round pan, 2 inches deep, and line bottom with round of parchment or wax paper.

Place chocolate in small bowl over hot water to melt, stirring occasionally.

Beat butter with 1/3 cup sugar until soft and light. Beat in melted chocolate. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Combine hazelnuts, bread crumbs and cinnamon and stir in.

Whip egg whites until very soft peaks form. Beat in remaining 1/3 cup sugar in slow stream and whip until firm peaks form. Stir 1/4 of whites into batter. Fold in rest with rubber spatula.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake about 45 minutes or until well risen and firm in center. Invert cake onto rack and allow to stand few minutes. Lift off pan and cool completely.

For advance preparation, wrap cake in plastic and refrigerate up to five days or freeze up to one month. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Pastiera Napoletana

Makes about 10 servings

PASTA FROLLA:

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces

2 large eggs

WHEAT KERNELS:

1/2 cup hulled wheat kernels (if wheat kernels are difficult to find, substitute rice)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

PASTRY CREAM:

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

RICOTTA FILLING:

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

1/2 cup diced candied orange peel

ground cinnamon

EGG WASH:

1 egg, beaten with dash salt

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