Sweet Celebrations

With good looks and refreshing flavors, these spring desserts make a fine finale for Mother's Day

May 09, 2007|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,Special to The Sun

While spring turns some fancies to love, my fancies turn to spring desserts. As everything comes to life outside, in the kitchen, desserts also throw off the cozy mantle of winter. Comforting pastry and hearty bread pudding give way to the rich flavors and soft pastel colors of ivory-white chocolate, lemon-yellow and spring-green mint leaves that mirror the flowers in bloom.

It's also a time when desserts need to do more than just taste good. A season of celebrations - from Mother's Day this Sunday to graduation parties, baby showers and weddings - calls for showstopping creations as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate.

These lovely desserts are right for any spring occasion. A do-ahead Lemon Icebox Pie with billows of whipped-cream topping refreshes those first warm evenings. White-chocolate-and-mint-flavored mousse garnished with mint leaves provides a nice finish for spring brunches or lunches.

And for times when you really want to pull out all the stops, there is a spectacular cake with the delicate flavors of coconut and almond to celebrate the most important milestones (including, of course, another year with your mother). In keeping with the carefree spirit of spring, even this four-layer finale is easy to prepare, can be assembled ahead and will leave you with plenty of time for "spring flings."

An old-fashioned hot-milk cake batter produces a light-textured butter cake to be filled and covered with whipped cream and shreds of coconut. The batter is easily mixed by beating eggs and sugar to a thick, fluffy mass, then mixing in flour, hot milk and melted butter.

Because the butter melts into the hot milk, it is not even necessary to soften butter for this cake. The cake batter develops properly from a thorough beating of eggs and sugar. It is stabilized when the hot-milk mixture is added.

It would be very difficult to over-beat the egg-and-sugar mixture, so if you're not sure whether it is sufficiently beaten, continue beating for another minute or two.

After the cake layers cool, cut them into two thinner horizontal layers. Use a serrated knife and a sawing motion to cut the layers smoothly and evenly. To move cake layers safely, support them with the removable bottom of a tart pan, the bottom of a springform pan or two large spatulas.

If you're looking for something to make far in advance that still will look as fresh when you serve it as the bouquet on the table, Lemon Icebox Pie fills the bill. Before this pie is topped with whipped cream, it can be frozen for up to 1 month.

To freeze the pie, refrigerate it until the top is firm, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and heavy aluminum foil. Let the wrapped frozen pie sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften slightly, then add the whipped-cream topping before serving it. Because this pie does not freeze rock-hard, it could even be served without being defrosted. The firm filling makes a nice contrast to the soft cream topping.

For a quick finale that still makes for an elegant presentation, think white-chocolate mousse, freshened with a hint of mint. Be sure to cool the white-chocolate mixture before whipping it with the cream, but only to the point that it remains pourable; that way, the cream and soft white-chocolate mixture will whip together smoothly. Measure the mint extract carefully - even a small amount packs quite a punch.

Coconut Whipped Cream Cake

Serves 12

CAKE: 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups whole milk

5 ounces (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

5 large eggs

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

FILLING AND TOPPING:

4 cups cold heavy (whipping) cream

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons amaretto (almond-flavored liqueur)

4 cups sweetened shredded coconut (divided use)

For the cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and butter over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture is hot, about 150 degrees if measured on a food thermometer. Do not boil.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is fluffy, thick and lightened in color, about 3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and amaretto.

On low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until it is blended. Slowly add the hot-milk mixture, mixing until it is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top feels firm when touched lightly and a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean.

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