Sunday, May 30, 2010

Farmers' Market Strawberry Almond Parfaits

Time flies--this is my 100th post! Happy birthday to my blog. I thought about making a birthday cake to celebrate, but I was mesmerized by some ruby-red strawberries at the farmers' market and decided that I couldn't live without them, or whatever dessert I decided to make with them. It's amazing how much more flavorful strawberries from the farmers' market are than their pumped-up supermarket cousins. Fresh from the field, they are smaller and more rustic in appearance with 

a sweet, intense flavor. They don't need much embellishment, and are wonderful served with some cream, plain or whipped, or vanilla ice cream.  But I like to pair them with anything almond, as in this Strawberry Toasted Almond Parfait. This desserts consists of layers of almond genoise cake cubes, which I imbibe with an almond syrup and top with almond crunch, syrupy strawberries and vanilla whipped cream. The whipped cream is sweetened and flavored with ground-up vanilla 

beans, a product I recently discovered made by Tahitian Gold. It's powerful stuff, so you only need half as much extract as you'd normally use to flavor things. As for the genoise, feel free to substitute almond or plain pound cake for it in the parfait. A course cornmeal-almond cake would also work very nicely. 

Strawberry Toasted Almond Parfait

Makes 6 servings

Almond Genoise:
½ cup (2 oz/57 g) cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup (3.15 oz/90 g) slivered almonds, toasted
4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
¾ cup (5.25 oz/150 g) granulated sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
½ teaspoon almond extract

Almond Crunch:
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 cup slivered blanched almonds, toasted
Make the almond brittle crunch
Syrupy Strawberries:
2 pints strawberries (preferably from the farmers’ market), washed, hulled and sliced
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Almond Soaking Syrup:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur, or 1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ½ teaspoon ground vanilla beans

Make the genoise:
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9-inch cake pan and dust with flour.
2. Sift together flour and salt. Transfer to bowl of food processor and add almonds. Process until almonds are finely ground. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar at high speed until light and thick, about 3 minutes.
4. In a clean, dry bowl of the electric mixer, using a clean whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks just begin to form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat at high speed until the whites form stiff peaks.
5. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about one-third of the whites into the yolk mixture. Sprinkle about one-third of the flour mixture over the egg yolk mixture and gently fold it in. Continue adding the egg whites and flour mixture alternately, folding very gently.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and almond extract. Scoop about 1 cup of the cake batter into the bowl containing the melted butter and stir until blended. Gently fold this mixture into the remaining cake batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
6. Bake the cake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto the wire rack and cool completely.

Make the Almond Crunch:
7. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, without stirring, for 4 to 6 minutes, until the syrup caramelizes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir the slivered almonds into the hot caramel. Pour onto the baking sheet. Cool the brittle for 30 minutes, or until hard.
8. Coarsely chop the brittle on a cutting board using a large knife.  Process the brittle in a food processor for 30 to 40 seconds, or until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl.
Prepare the strawberries:
Place the berries in a bowl and toss them with the sugar and lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate the berries for at least 45 minutes (or up to 6 hours), or until they become syrupy.

Make the soaking syrup:
9. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the syrup. Stir in the amaretto or almond extract and vanilla.

Make the whipped cream:
10. Beat the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to stiff peaks.

To assemble:
11. Cut a few wedges of the genoise into ½-inch cubes so that you have about 4 cups. Arrange about 1/3 cup of the cubes in the bottom of a serving glass. Brush generously with soaking syrup, then top with ¼ cup strawberries. Sprinkle with some Almond Crunch, then top with ¼ cup whipped cream. Repeat another layer. Serve immediately.

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