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Goodbye winter: Spring forward with 3 fresh, colorful desserts

Angel food cake with vanilla whipped cream and spring berries. (Kathy Gunst)
Angel food cake with vanilla whipped cream and spring berries. (Kathy Gunst)

It’s been a long winter. The beginning of spring, warm weather, new produce and the appearance of locally-grown fruit are causes for joy. I tend to focus on savory foods, but this is a great time of year to do some spring baking.

The first night of Passover is on April 15, and Easter Sunday falls on April 17. Both of these spring holidays are great excuses to do some baking. For Easter, a Meyer lemon tart with strawberries and pistachio dust would be ideal. It’s colorful, refreshing and an ideal end to a rich holiday meal. Angel food cake is also light and airy, served with whipped vanilla-scented cream and first-of-the-season strawberries or raspberries.

Passover or Pesach is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. Throughout the eight-day holiday, Jews do not eat any grains that can ferment and become leavened. The story goes when Jews escaped Egypt they didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise before fleeing. Wheat flour is permitted only when it is baked into Matzah, or unleavened bread. So for Passover this year I’ll bake a flourless chocolate and orange cake.

Three new desserts for a new season.

Separation anxiety: How to separate egg yolks from whites

The angel food cake and the lemon curd call for separating egg whites from yolks. Always crack the eggs in a small bowl rather than cracking them directly into the batter or cake mix – that way if you get a drip of egg yolk into your egg whites you can remove it without spoiling the whole batter. Crack the eggs by gently tapping the egg on the side of the bowl or the counter. Let the egg whites drip into the bowl. Pass the yolk from one half of the eggshell to the other allowing all the whites to drip down into the bowl. If you get a bit of yolk or eggshell into the whites, use half of the cracked eggshell to help you scoop it out. Be sure not to let any yolk remain or your ability to properly whip the egg whites will be compromised.

Meyer lemon curd tart with strawberries and pistachio dust

If you make the pastry ahead of time (or buy a pre-made crust) and make the lemon curd a day or two ahead of time (or buy lemon curd in a jar from a specialty food shop), this gorgeous pie comes together quite easily.

If you can find Meyer lemons, they add a wonderful sweetness to the curd. Meyer lemons taste more like a cross between a lemon and an orange and they have softer skin. Regular lemons can be substituted easily.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

The pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 180 grams
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cold water


The lemon curd, or use 2 cups premade lemon curd

  • 4 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice, from around 5 to 8 lemons or Meyer lemons
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, from the above lemons
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Pinch salt


The garnishes:

  • ¼ packed cup very finely chopped salted pistachios
  • About 1 cup ripe strawberries or any berry, left whole or thickly sliced


Instructions

  1. Make the pastry: Whirl the flour, egg yolk, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter pieces and whirl about 10 times until the butter is the size of coarse cornmeal. With the motor running add the water and whirl until the pastry just comes away from the sides of the bowl. Place on a sheet of parchment paper and wrap it into a disc shape. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, make the curd: In a medium pot, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest. Place over medium heat and whisking constantly, cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking as you add each piece until you have a smooth curd. Immediately place a fine sieve or strainer over a large bowl and place the curd through the strainer. Place a sheet of plastic or wax paper directly onto the curd and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to two days.
  3. To prepare the tart: Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch fluted tart pan or 9-inch pie plate. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and when it is almost room temperature (it should still be slightly chilled) roll it on a well-floured surface into a circle, about 11 to 12 inches. Place inside the tart pan and tuck the dough into the pan and trim the edges. If using a pie plate, press the dough into the plate and trim the edges. Using a fork, prick the pastry all over the sides and bottom. Place on the middle shelf and bake for 18 minutes, or until a pale golden brown. Remove and let cool for about 5 to 10 minutes on a cooling rack.
  5. Spoon about 2 cups of the chilled curd into the cooled pie shell. Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. (Any remaining curd can be used as a dip for fruit or butter cookies, or to fill in meringue shells or add to the top of yogurt or ice cream.)
  6. Place on the middle shelf and bake for about 22 to 25 minutes or until the filling has puffed up slightly around the edges. Remove and cool.
  7. When the tart is cool, dust the edges with the chopped pistachios and decorate with the strawberries in the center or along the edge. Sprinkle on the remaining teaspoon of grated lemon zest if you’ve made homemade curd.

Angel food cake with vanilla whipped cream and spring berries

Imagine a cake that feels like eating clouds. This light, airy angel food cake, made with whipped egg whites, sugar, cake flour and a touch of lemon juice and vanilla is served with vanilla-scented whipped cream and spring strawberries or your favorite berries. The cake is best eaten on the day you bake it but it will be fine for a few days covered and refrigerated.

There are a few “tricks” to making a successful angel food cake. You will need what is called an angel food tube cake pan, a round cake pan with a center tube. Do NOT grease the pan: If you grease it the cake will not adhere to the pan and will slide down. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature and there’s no egg yolk that drips in; it will be difficult to whip if yolk gets into the batter. The cake needs to cool, upside down, on a cake rack until fully cool before releasing from the pan.

Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

  • 12 egg whites at room temperature, about 1 ½ cups
  • ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar*
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted
  • Pinch fine salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar for garnish


The whipped cream and berries

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • About 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half or your favorite berries
  • Confectioners sugar for garnish


*For an even lighter texture, place the sugar in a food processor and pulse until super fine.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In the bowl of a food mixer or handheld mixer, whip the egg whites and the cream of tartar on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, or until soft peaks form. (Soft peaks happen when you lift the whisk or beaters and the egg whites just hold their shape and kind of flop over. Stiff peaks occur when the egg whites hold their shape and stand up on their own when you lift the whisk or beaters.)
  3. Add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Add the lemon juice and vanilla and whip for 10 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the flour and salt over the whipped eggs and, using a soft spatula, fold the flour into the whites until there is no sign of flour. Spoon the mixture into the ungreased angel food tube cake pan and place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. The cake will have a light golden topping and be puffed up.
  4. Remove the cake and place it upside down on a cake rack. Cool for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until fully cool. When the cake is cool take a thin kitchen knife and run it around the edges of the cake, carefully loosening anywhere that feels stuck. Carefully work the knife around the inner tube as well. Then take a plate and flip the cake over, tapping it gently until it releases from the cake pan. If it’s stuck, use the kitchen knife and work your way around the cake again, loosening up the cake to pull away from the sides and the inner tube as needed.
  5. While the cake bakes, whip the cream until it thickens. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip until almost stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use. Place the berries in a bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
  6. Sift the confectioners’ sugar on top and serve with the whipped cream and berries on the side.

Flourless chocolate and orange cake

This is an adaptation of a recipe I developed years ago for “Stonewall Kitchen Harvest.” Since this is a flourless cake, it’s ideal for Passover (or any time of the year) and to serve friends and family on gluten-free diets. The cake is flavored with orange, topped with a simple chocolate ganache and garnished with small wedges of orange. It can be served the day it is baked or covered and refrigerated overnight; when the cake sits for a day, it gets denser and more fudge-like.

Note: This cake calls for Dutch-processed cocoa, which is non-alkalized. If you use regular unsweetened cocoa (which is alkalized) substitute ½ teaspoon baking soda for the 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

Serves 8 to 10.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • Butter for greasing the pan
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, 1 cup, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, see note above
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, or 1 ½ teaspoons orange extract*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 1 packed teaspoon grated orange zest


For the chocolate ganache:

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • About ½ cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau or 1 teaspoon orange extract*


For the garnish:

  • Confectioners sugar
  • 1 blood orange, tangerine or orange


*Orange oil or extract is like vanilla extract made from oranges and orange peels. 

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 9 ½-inch springform pan. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and line the bottom of the pan with the paper. Grease the parchment paper as well; set aside.
  2. Place the chocolate in a small or medium saucepan and heat over very low heat, stirring until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until fully melted. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a stand mixer or electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium until thick and foamy about 2 minutes. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, continuing to beat until the mixture has increased in volume, thickened and is a pale yellow color, about 8 to 10 minutes. This may feel like a long time, but it needs that much time to whip up in volume. Remove from the mixer and sift the cocoa powder and baking powder (or baking soda if using non-Dutch-process cocoa) and fold gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.
  4. Fold the orange liqueur (or extract), the vanilla, salt, and grated orange zest into the melted chocolate mixture. Scoop about 1 cup of the egg and sugar batter into the melted chocolate mixture, stirring to lighten the chocolate mixture. Then gently pour all the chocolate mixture into the bowl with the remaining egg and sugar and carefully fold all the ingredients together until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
  5. Bake on the middle shelf for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes on a cake rack and then remove the sides of the springform pan. Let the cake cool completely on the cooling rack.
  6. If there are any crusty, dark pieces along the top of the cake, use a serrated knife and, keeping the knife level with the cake, cut off the darkened pieces. Place a large cake plate over the cake and carefully flip the cake over onto the plate. Remove the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. Carefully flip the cake back onto the cooling rack. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment under the cooling rack to catch the drips when you spread the ganache on top.
  7. Meanwhile, make the ganache: In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring until thoroughly melted. Add the ½ cup of cream and stir until smooth. Add the orange liqueur (or extract). Remove from the heat and let sit until slightly cooled. If the ganache seems too thick (it should be pourable), add the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and mix well.
  8. Pour half the ganache over the cake and, using a straight or offset spatula, gently spread it over the top of the cake until smooth. Let the ganache drip down the sides. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake and smooth the top with the offset spatula. Using a wide spatula or pizza paddle, transfer the cake to a serving plate. (If making ahead, lightly cover the cake with wax paper and refrigerate until 1 hour before serving.)
  9. Peel the orange and separate into sections. Cut each section into small pieces or triangles and place them around the cake. Sift the top of the cake with confectioners sugar just before serving.


More ideas for spring and holiday baking:

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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