An alternative to strawberries and cream (albeit a bit more complex)
The best part about chemistry lessons at school were always the experiments where you could see things changing in front of you: mixing two liquids and getting a third of a completely different colour, or seeing a solid crystallise in a liquid. People usually compare baking to a science, because of the precision that’s often required, but I think that all the elaborate French egg-based desserts are a much better match with a chemistry experiment. The accuracy required is all in the preparation: whipping egg whites to the right consistency, maintaining a moderate temperature so that custard doesn’t turn to scrambled eggs, and so on. Of course, all this had put me off actually attempting this sort of thing.
Flicking through the American food writer Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, I finally decided to bite the bullet and make the dessert that probably combined the most techniques that I’d never done before – an orange bavarois. It was something I vaguely remembered from a past episode of Masterchef (most likely a series featuring professional chefs attempting to replicate Michel Roux Jr.’s impossibly high standards) but that I’d never eaten. Falling somewhere on a spectrum between a panna cotta and a light mousse and is a surprisingly light dessert, given that excluding any flavourings, it consists of solely eggs, sugar and double cream.
After the success of the orange bavarois, in honour of the traditional strawberries and cream of Wimbledon, I took a big punnet of British strawberries to make a more seasonal variation. It didn’t quite turn out as I’d intended, being a little too aerated than it should have been – the upside of this is that you end up with more of it of course, so as well as filling the initial mould, there was enough for a few individual sized ones too.
I’ve altered the method ever so slightly and converted the quantities from ounces to grams (with a little rounding). The original calls for the custard and egg whites to be mixed over a bowl of ice, but I initially forgot this stage and can see no real need for it unless you want to be sure it will be set to serve the same day or work in a steamy professional kitchen! Given the complexity, I’ve also written the method out in numbered steps rather than my usual block of text to make things clearer to follow but it’s a lot simpler than it first appears.
- 400g strawberries, plus a few more to serve
- 12g gelatine (I used powdered gelatine and this was the size of the sachet, use a couple of grams more for a faster set)
- 5 large eggs
- 170g plus 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 heaped tsp cornflour
- 400ml milk
- Pinch of salt
- 150ml double cream
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 2 tbsp dark rum, brandy or similar spirit or liqueur (optional)
Serves 6-10, depending on your generosity!
- Hull and purée the strawberries in a food processor and press the resulting purée through a sieve to remove the seeds (you should get around a 500ml of purée. Combine purée with the gelatine to soften and set aside.
- Separate 5 eggs into two large bowls. Whisk the yolks with 170g of the sugar, the vanilla extract and cornflour until the mixture has thickened and, when the whisk is lifted out of the mixture, the drips leave a ribbon-like trail on the surface.
- Gently heat the milk until it is steaming, then in a slow, steady stream, pour it into the egg yolk mixture, beating continuously with a spatula until it has all been combined.
- Put the custard mix back into the milk pan and heat very gently, stirring regularly until the mixture is thick enough so that when a line is drawn across the custard on the back of a wooden spoon, the custard does not flow over it to fill the space – if you have a cooking thermometer, the temperature should not exceed 83°C, or less if you omit the cornflour. Rinse out the mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, whisk egg whites with pinch of salt to until fluffy and cloud-like (soft peaks), then add 2 tbsp caster sugar and whisk further until it is glossy and holds its shape (stiff peaks).
- Once the custard has thickened, return to mixing bowl and beat in the strawberry purée.
- Fold in the egg whites with a spatula until it is fully incorporated and refrigerate for 90 minutes.
- Fold the mixture again to stop it separating. Chill until nearly set (roughly another 90 minutes).
- Whip the double cream with the remaining ingredients to soft peaks then fold through the almost set mixture thoroughly. The egg whites will deflate somewhat as you fold in the cream due to the fat content. Pour the mixture out into a 1 litre/2 pint mould (a 1lb loaf tin lined with cling film is big enough) or individual dishes. Chill until fully set, ideally overnight.
- Once set, turn out of the mould by loosening the edges with a thin-bladed knife and inverting onto a serving platter – the bavarois can then be sliced to serve. If using individual moulds, do the same onto individual plates or serve in their dishes, accompanied with fresh or macerated fruit and a shortbread biscuit.