A creamy, fruity, sweet Shavuot

Shavuot celebrates not only dairy foods but also the first fruits.

cream pie 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
cream pie 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
European Bavarian cream, or "bavaria" as it's often called in Hebrew, appears on Israeli restaurant menus even more often than another popular pudding, the Turkish-inspired malabi, even though malabi has its roots in our region. The Israeli interpretation of Bavarian cream, a creamy, vanilla-pudding-like dessert topped with chocolate syrup and chopped nuts, can be wonderful, but anyone who thinks this is the only way to make this classic dessert is missing out on a lot of good eats. Like ice cream, Bavarian cream can be made in any dessert flavor, from almond to peach to green tea. Since Shavuot celebrates not only dairy foods but also the first fruits of the Land of Israel, one delicious way to combine both motifs is to serve a fruit-studded Bavarian cream. Basically, you make vanilla or fruit-liqueur-flavored Bavarian cream and when it is partly set, you fold in a fruit salad. Bavarian cream is usually made from a custard sauce, gelatin and whipped cream. For a striking presentation, you can prepare the dessert in a ring mold and, after unmolding it, garnish its center with sliced fresh fruit. Or, instead of using a decorative mold, you can take the easy route - pour the mixture into a square pan and serve the bavaria cut in squares. As an accompaniment, serve a fruity sauce made from frozen berries. Pour a little sauce on each plate next to the dessert, and top the sauce with a few slices of fresh fruit. Nuts give bavaria good flavor and contrasting texture. One of the first cookbooks in my library, Aviva Goldman's The Kosher Cookbook (in Hebrew), published in 1970, features a pistachio and walnut-flavored dessert resembling Bavarian cream but lightened with whipped egg whites. Goldman folds diced walnuts into the dessert and pours it into a pistachio-lined mold, then serves the dessert garnished with whole walnuts. You can add any tender fruit to the Bavarian cream mixture. The exceptions are raw pineapple, which can prevent the gelatin from setting, and raw kiwi, which can give dairy products an unpleasant flavor. Hard fruits like apples and pears are best added after you poach them lightly. When adding peaches, most chefs prefer to peel them first; to facilitate peeling them, put them in a pot of boiling water and boil them for about 30 seconds, like tomatoes. Nectarines are easier; they don't need to be peeled. Bananas taste good with Bavarian cream but discolor as they sit in the mixture; I like to serve a few slices separately, as a garnish or accompaniment. Goldman found that bananas work well in Bavarian cream if you mash them and mix them with lemon juice before stirring them into the custard mixture. To make this silky dessert more substantial, you can incorporate small pieces of cake or ladyfingers. Classic charlottes are made by pouring Bavarian cream into a frame of ladyfingers, but a simpler way to combine the two elements is to layer the ladyfingers with the Bavarian cream in the mold; or you can fold in diced ladyfingers or cake along with the fruit. Pastry chef Yves Thuries, author of the splendid encyclopedia of modern French desserts, Le livre de recettes d'un compagnon du tour de France, pairs cake with Bavarian cream in several creative ways. He makes calvados (apple brandy) Bavarian cream garnished with poached apple slices, serves it on a base of sponge cake brushed with calvados syrup and accompanied by caramel sauce. For an orange version, he makes the Bavarian cream's custard with orange juice instead of milk and adds strips of orange zest, poached orange slices and Grand Marnier, then layers the creamy pudding with sponge cake moistened with orange syrup. A much less elaborate but still attractive way to serve Bavarian cream is to make it look like cheesecake. You prepare the usual cheesecake cookie-crumb crust in a springform cake pan, then pour the Bavarian cream mixture into it and let it set. This also makes serving easier, as you don't need to unmold the dessert. All you do is run a warm spatula around the edge of the dessert and remove the sides of the pan. FRUIT-STUDDED BAVARIAN CREAM Enhanced with fresh fruit and liqueur-laced ladyfingers, this Bavarian cream is perfect for a festive Shavuot meal. You can make it one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. 2 cups mixed thinly sliced or diced fresh fruit - nectarines, apricots, strawberries, seedless grapes, mango, orange or tangerine sections 4 Tbsp. berry, pear, cherry, orange or other fruit brandy or liqueur 9 Tbsp. sugar 1 cup milk 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1⁄4 cup water 21⁄2 tsp. unflavored gelatin 3 large egg yolks 1 cup whipping cream 6 ladyfingers or 6 strips of sponge cake Strawberry Sauce (see recipe below) Fresh fruit for garnish, such as sliced bananas, kiwis, mangoes, peaches or nectarines Sprinkle fruit with 2 tablespoons fruit brandy and 2 tablespoons sugar and mix gently. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. In a heavy medium saucepan bring milk to a boil with vanilla bean (but not with vanilla extract). Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, skip this step). Pour 1⁄4 cup water into small cup. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand until ready to use. In a heavy small or medium saucepan bring the milk to a boil, whisking. Remove from heat. Whisk egg yolks lightly in a large bowl. Add sugar and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk hot milk into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping bottom of pan constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens slightly; begin checking after 5 minutes. To check if custard is ready, remove pan from heat, dip a metal spoon in custard and draw your finger across back of spoon - your finger should leave a clear trail in mixture that clings to spoon. Or, on an instant-read thermometer, mixture should reach about 75ºC. If necessary, cook another 1⁄2 minute and check again. Do not overcook sauce or it will curdle. Strain immediately into a large bowl and stir about 1⁄2 minute to cool. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Lightly oil a 6-cup mold or bowl. Stir 2 tablespoons fruit brandy into cooled custard; if using vanilla extract, add it now. Refrigerate until cold and beginning to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring mixture every 5 minutes; do not allow custard mixture to set. Using slotted spoon, transfer fruit to custard, reserving fruit's liquid (to use for dipping ladyfingers). Stir fruit into custard. Refrigerate 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whip cream in chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold cream into custard. Refrigerate, folding occasionally, about 5 minutes or until beginning to set. Spoon half of custard mixture into mold. Cut ladyfingers in half crosswise. Dip a ladyfinger piece into fruit liquid and set it on mixture. Repeat with 5 more ladyfinger pieces. Chill 2 minutes. Carefully spoon remaining custard mixture over ladyfingers in mold. Dip remaining ladyfinger halves into fruit liquid and set them on top of mixture. Press them into mixture so top is level. Cover mold with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until completely set, at least 2 hours. Unmold dessert a short time before serving: First dip mold for about 10 seconds into enough warm water to come nearly to top of mold; pat dry. Next run a thin-bladed flexible knife around edge of dessert, gently pushing dessert slightly from edge of mold to let in air. Last, set a serving platter on top of mold, hold tightly and invert the dessert and platter together. Shake mold downward once; dessert should come out onto platter. If dessert remains in mold, repeat procedure. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with strawberry sauce and sliced fruit. Makes 6 servings. STRAWBERRY SAUCE 3 cups (350 gr.) frozen strawberries, thawed 2 Tbsp. water 4 to 5 Tbsp. powdered sugar, or to taste 2 Tbsp. fruit liqueur (optional) Puree strawberries with water in a blender or food processor. Sift 4 tablespoons powdered sugar into sauce and mix well. Taste, and add fruit liqueur and more powdered sugar if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Aruhot Halaviot (Dairy Dishes) and Sefer Hakinuhim (The Book of Desserts).