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I never can believe it when I find strawberries in the late summer at our farmers markets, but some strains do have a second coming. I think they are variants of the Everbearing strawberry plants that show up toward the end of July, August, and even September in some areas. So if you love them, and love to bake, I am sharing this sloppy-looking recipe from the River Café in London that we have adored for years. The ingredient list is very generous with the amount of strawberries and heavy cream, so depending on how large you make your meringue/cake layers, you may have some left over – which will make an excellent breakfast for the cook.
Baking these layers, which are sort of a cross between a dacquoise and a sponge, is one of the few times I don’t use a Silpat, but follow the recipe instructions for buttered parchment paper. I usually draw circles of about 8 or 9 inches (20 to 23cm) on the parchment, but I want to try three rectangles next. You can purchase almond powder or flour and use that instead of grinding your almonds. You can lightly toast your almonds or the almond flour and it will give the meringue a more pronounced nutty flavor. I actually preferred them untoasted after an experiment.
I can get two circles on a half sheet pan, so I need two of them. Using a large offset icing spatula, makes it easier to manipulate the shapes. The layers are baked when you see a slight golden brown ring around the edge of each layer. The tops of all the layers should be barely dry. You MUST remove the layers from the paper while they are still warm. Put them on racks to cool completely at room temperature. Do not refrigerate to hasten the cooling process as that may make the layers damp. Add brandy as you want to flavor the whipped cream – don’t feel you have to use the full amount their recipe specifies. I also use a bit of French strawberry essence in the berries. Center one layer on the plate and with a large icing spatula (again, an offset one is easier to manipulate) add the whipped cream and arrange the strawberries on top. You want a full layer of berries on top of the cream. You repeat this with the other two layers. No need to try and make this neat, part of its charm is its haphazard look. They sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on the top before serving, if desired. This cake benefits from the cream and strawberries soaking into the meringue layers at least for a few hours and even better overnight. And you can certainly use a good quality vanilla essence or extract if you don’t have access to vanilla beans.
An Italian Impact
The Green Cookbook from these two incredibly talented and driven women is just one of several they had spun off from their wonderful restaurant on the shores of the Thames in London. The book is divided into months and clearly is not meat centric, but is vegetarian in the best possible sense – allowing produce to be itself. No turning slabs of cauliflower into “steaks” or pulverizing beans and mushrooms for “veggie burgers”.
Rose Gray died of breast cancer several years ago, but Ruth Rogers is still at the helm of River Cafe. I have always been impressed with how good they were to their staff. Jamie Oliver, who got his start there, was profoundly affected by how Rose and and Ruth ran the kitchen. The architectural design of her late husband, Richard Rogers, is as sparkling as the menu. His firm RSHP is perhaps best known for the Pompidou Center in Paris and recently is in charge of the redesign for the museum for the Bayeux Tapestry. Rose and Ruth’s groundbreaking restaurant reflects the same advocacy for sustainable design and showcasing architectural elements. Rogers himself was born in Florence and worked with noted Italian architects before he founded RSHP. And so the fortuitous marriage of simply presenting excellent (and mostly organic) ingredients framed by an innovative use of light and space speaks to a modern Italian aesthetic. Adding late-season strawberries just makes the whole experience more gorgeous.
- olive oil and butter for greasing the trays
- 175 gr shelled whole blanched almonds or 150gr (2 cups almond powder) - should be around 1 1/4 cups of whole almonds
- 5 egg whites from large organic eggs
- 225 gr (1 cup) caster sugar
- 110 gr (1/2cup) unsalted butter, melted
- 70 gr (a bit over 1/2 cup) white all purpose flour
- For the strawberries and cream
- 1.5kg (3 1/3lb)strawberries, hulled and halved
- 1 vanilla pod scraped
- 1 litre double cream - a bit over a quart of heavy cream
- 1150 gr ( a bit over a cup) icing sugar
- 150ml (5 fl oz) good quality brandy - they suggest Vechio Romagna
- Preheat oven to 120C or 250F.
- Rub olive oil over three flat oven trays.
- Line each tray with parchment paper and butter the paper.
- Put the almonds in a food processor and pulse chop to medium fine flour.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with half the sugar until stiff, then add the almond flour and the remaining sugar.
- Beat briefly to combine.
- Fold in the melted butter.
- Finally sieve the flour into the bowl and fold in carefully.
- Spoon the mixture onto the three trays and spread it out flat, each the same shape and diameter, as thin as you can (1cm thick at most).
- Bake for 50 minutes or until set and nearly crisp.
- It is essential to peel off the paper whilst the meringues are still hot.
- Place on wire racks to cool.
- Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and lightly whip the cream with the vanilla seeds and the icing sugar.
- When stiff, fold in the brandy.
- Choose a large flat cake plate that will fit the shapes of the meringue.
- Place the first meringue layer on the plate and cover it with a third of the cream
- Place one third of the strawberry halves on the cream. Repeat twice
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.