Last month my mother and I were talking about what babies eat and when during their first year, and she asked me if I was planning to make my own baby food. "Of course I am planning to," I said, “but I understand that things get a little crazy when you're dealing with a baby." My dreams of beautiful little jars of farmer's market vegetables lovingly pureed by mama will, I'm sure, soon be abandoned when mama is not getting the generous amount of sleep to which she is accustomed.
The difficulties of the third trimester, pain of labor, and complications of breastfeeding are all described in excruciating detail in pregnancy books, but the infant’s overwhelming needs are just vaguely, ominously mentioned. I believe it’s true because everyone says so, but I still don’t quite understand how a tiny baby can take up so much time that you have trouble sneaking in a shower. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, I’m treasuring my last months of complete self-determination just as much as I’m looking forward to meeting our baby, who I have come to think of as a pleasant and clever but demanding little creature. A fast walker, I zip past the Bugaboo-wielding moms and nannies in the park. I go to yoga on Saturday afternoon or coffee Sunday morning without having to negotiate with Andrew. Shopping is a snap, not a major expedition. And I cook whatever I want, even if I know it’s going to consume an entire afternoon or move dinnertime back to coincide with the Daily Show. I probably do that kind of marathon cooking only once a month or so, but I love getting lost in the process. Since I’m fairly certain this luxury will not be mine to enjoy for long, I’m trying to enjoy it now.
Sunday was my thirty-first birthday. My mother gave me Tartine, the gorgeous cookbook from the San Francisco bakery, and I decided I had to make the summer fruit Bavarian for my birthday cake. It probably took at least three hours to make and assemble (I’m a very slow cook) before its four hours of chilling. My cake was not as beautiful as the pristine specimen pictured in the book (in fact, "gloppy" is the adjective that comes to mind). Nevertheless, it tasted delicious—but not insanely more delicious than strawberry shortcake, which I can make in about 45 minutes flat.
I mentally reviewed the recipe, wondering if I would bother to make something so involved again, and realized that I had loved every step of it and wouldn’t want to skip a single one: I loved separating and beating eggs for the chiffon cake, I loved making pastry cream for the first time, and I loved trying to build it all into a tidy, closeup-ready cake. Maybe next year I won’t have time to make even a pound cake for my birthday, but I’m glad that this year I got to go all out.
About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.
Summer Fruit Bavarian
- 12 to 16 servings -
Adapted from Tartine
- 10-inch chiffon cake (recipe below)
- Fresh fruit (one type or a mixture): berries or cherries, 2 pints; stone fruit such as peaches, about 1 1/2 pounds
- Fruit puree:
- Very full 1/2 pint berries
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin (1/2 envelope)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 1/2 cups pastry cream (1 batch; recipe below), cold
- 2 cups heavy cream, very cold
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, very cold
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 6 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cups water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 10 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or lemon juice
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 large eggs (or 4 yolks, for a richer cream)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Line the sides of a 10-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides with plastic wrap, allowing enough overhang to cover the top of the cake completely when it is assembled. Leave the bottom of the pan unlined. Have the cake ready.
Select one fruit or a mixture. If using blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, or other berries, leave them whole (but hull the strawberries). If using cherries, remove the stems and pits. If using peaches and nectarines, pit and slice lengthwise into eights; if using apricots, pit and cut into quarters. You want a total of about 4 cups (22 ounces) prepared fruit.
To make the fruit puree, combine the berries, sugar, and salt in a blender and process on high speed until smooth.
To make the filling, in a small dish sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Place 1/2 cup of the pastry cream in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over but not touching the water. Heat the pastry cream, whisking constantly, until hot to the touch (120°F), about 5 minutes. Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath. Whisk half of the remaining cold pastry cream into the hot mixture, then whisk in the rest.
Whip the heavy cream for the filling until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately and gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.
Fit one cake layer into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer evenly with half of the fruit puree. Spoon half of the filling onto the layer, add the fruit, and spoon the rest of the filling over the fruit. Smooth the surface with an offset spatula. If using strawberries, spoon only enough of the filling onto the cake to create a layer 1/4 inch thick and stand the strawberries upright, pointed end up, pushing them into the cream. Quickly turn the remaining filling onto the fruit, lightly pressing down with the back of a large spoon to fill in any air pockets. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten it with the rest of the fruit puree. Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over the top of the cake, covering completely, and then gently press down on the plastic to distribute the cream evenly (don’t use too much pressure). Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.
When you are ready to finish the cake, release and lift off the pan sides and peel away the plastic wrap. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cake to a serving plate, if using, or leave it on the cake pan base.
To make the topping, whip the topping cream until thickened. Add the sugar and whip until the cream holds soft peaks. Using the offset spatula, frost the top of the cake. The cake can be served immediately or kept cold in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It will keep for up to three days.
Basic Chiffon Cake
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides with parchment paper cut to fit exactly. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
Sift together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minute, until very smooth.
Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar or lemon juice and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, scoop about 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula if necessary. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool in the pan (the sides of the pan will help hold the structure of the cake as it cools) on a wire rack. To unmold, run a small, thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake and then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake, peel off the parchment, and use as directed. The cake will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to one month.
For the summer fruit Bavarian, you will need to split this cake into two even layers. Use a long, serrated bread knife.
- makes 2 1/2 cups -
Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream. Set a fine-mesh sieve atop it.
Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, turn the heat to medium-high, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
When the milk is ready, turn off the heat and slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk, turn the heat to medium, and continue whisking until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream. Remove from the heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. (If the custard stays in the hot pot, it will continue to cook.) Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on top.
Cut the butter into 1 tablespoon pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140 degrees), whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.
To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream to prevent skin formation. Refrigerate. Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days.