At a leisurely breakfast, my husband pulled out a bottle of Grand Marnier. I gave him a quizzical look - liquor in the morning? He sprinkled a little into our colorful fruit salad of peaches, strawberries and blueberries, and we both enjoyed the spirited sweet.
Several days later we enhanced a similar, spirit-spiked fruit medley with a few spoonfuls of vanilla custard sauce in each bowl. The sauce, made of milk, sugar and egg yolks, tastes like vanilla ice cream in liquid form, and that's exactly what it is. If you poured it into an ice-cream machine, you'd get a fine ice cream. You can vary the sauce's flavor by infusing seasonings like cinnamon sticks, mint leaves or citrus zest strips into the milk instead of, or in addition to, the vanilla.
To us, few desserts taste better than the luscious sauce with ripe summer fruit. If you combine this delicious duo of fruit and sauce with slices of freshly baked cake, you get the ideal summertime Shabbat dessert. It's a match made in culinary heaven. It was in France that I learned to prepare this type of dessert, called "entremets de cuisine" - "restaurant desserts," served as individual slices on a plate with a sauce and often with fruit, as opposed to "pastry-shop desserts," which are purchased whole or sometimes in slices but traditionally do not come with these embellishments.
The cake component of these elegant treats is easy to prepare; all you need is a plain, single-layer cake with no filling and no frosting. On hot days you can skip this step and purchase a good-quality cake or fresh ladyfingers and still have a festive, homemade dessert.
These desserts are fun to design, as you can vary the three elements to your taste. Match chocolate cake with fresh berries and mint-flavored custard sauce, or orange-scented cake with orange-flavored sauce and fresh orange segments.
French restaurant reviewers Christian Gault and Henri Millau, in their book on homemade desserts, Nos Desserts Preferes a La Maison, served lemon-scented almond-raspberry cake slices with vanilla custard sauce and fresh berries. To enrich the sauce, they stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche when it had cooled.
Yves Thuries, author of the 10-volume French cooking encyclopedia, Le Livre de Recettes d'un Compagnon du Tour de France, took this concept to a new pinnacle, developing dozens of delicious, beautiful presentations. For one, he served rum-flavored custard with rum-macerated fruit and a slice of rum baba. The syrup-moistened baba is known as sabrina in Israel; you could buy a few and slice them to easily make such a dessert. Thuries flavored his custard sauces with all sorts of liqueurs or substituted equal amounts of fruit juice and creme fraiche for the usual milk.
In the hands of Thuries, even humble French toast becomes part of a fancy plated dessert. His is not made from basic white bread, but rather from brioche or sponge cake, dipped in beaten eggs and pan-fried in butter the usual way, then sprinkled with powdered sugar and caramelized lightly in the broiler. In desserts, these rich, golden-brown toast slices play the role of cake. They might accompany a plate of fresh orange segments, blackberries and mint-flavored custard sauce, or strawberries, kiwi slices, raspberries, vanilla sauce and a drizzle of rum. Since the French toast needs to be warm, this kind of dessert isn't practical for a Shabbat dinner, but it makes a lovely treat for a relaxed summertime brunch.
LIGHT ALMOND CAKE WITH VANILLA CUSTARD SAUCE AND SUMMER FRUIT
You can make this light-textured cake two days ahead; wrap it when it cools and refrigerate it. The cake can also be frozen.
Makes 8 servings
1â„2 cup blanched almonds
5 large eggs
3â„4 cup powdered sugar
6 Tbsp. granulated (regular) sugar
1â„2 cup potato starch
3 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
Vanilla Custard Sauce (see next recipe)
Liqueur-macerated fresh fruit
(see recipe below)
Butter and flour a 23-cm. cake pan, 5 or 7.5 cm. deep. Preheat oven to 175ÂºC. Grind almonds in food processor or nut grinder to a fine powder.
Separate 4 eggs into yolks and whites. Beat remaining whole egg with powdered sugar and ground almonds until mixture is well blended. Beat in egg yolks, one by one.
Whip egg whites until stiff. With mixer at high speed, beat in granulated sugar and whip until whites are stiff and dry, about 15 seconds.
Sift potato starch over egg yolk mixture. Add about 1â„4 of whites and begin folding together. Continue folding, adding remaining whites in two batches. Last, pour in melted butter in a thin stream while folding, and fold together lightly and quickly.
Transfer immediately to prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from side of pan; when pressed in center, cake should spring back. Carefully run a knife around cake. Invert it onto a rack and cool completely.
Serve each slice of cake in a rimmed plate with a few spoonfuls of vanilla custard sauce and with liqueur-macerated fresh fruit.
VANILLA CUSTARD SAUCE
Even a simple dessert becomes a fancy finale when accompanied by this creamy vanilla bean sauce. It is perfect with plain, unfrosted cakes. To make it parve, you can use nondairy rice milk or soy drink.
Makes about 8 servings
11â„2 cups milk or parve milk such as rice milk or soy milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
1â„4 cup sugar
Bring milk and vanilla bean to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat.
Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Reheat to a boil.
Whisk egg yolks lightly in a large bowl. Add sugar; whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in hot milk. Return mixture to saucepan, whisking. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring mixture and scraping bottom of pan constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 77ÂºC to 80ÂºC on an instant-read or candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. To check whether sauce is thick enough without a thermometer, remove pan from heat. Dip a metal spoon in sauce and draw your finger across back of spoon. Your finger should leave a clear path in mixture that clings to spoon. If it does not, cook 30 seconds more and check again. Do not overcook sauce or it will curdle.
Immediately strain sauce into a bowl. Stir about 30 seconds to cool; cool completely.
Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving, or up to 2 days.
LIQUEUR-MACERATED FRESH FRUIT WITH GRAND MARNIER
If you prefer, substitute fresh orange juice for the liqueur. You can prepare the fruit mixture a few hours ahead and refrigerate it in a covered container, but the peaches and pears will keep their color best if you cut them a short time before serving.
Makes about 8 servings
4 to 6 cups fresh fruit - any mixture of the following: sliced peaches, nectarines, apricots, tender pears or strawberries, orange segments or whole raspberries, blackberries or blueberries
3 to 4 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
3 to 4 Tbsp. orange or other fruit liqueur, or to taste
Combine fruit, sugar and liqueur. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and of Sefer Hakinuhim (The book of Desserts), in Hebrew.