by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone
from Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007)
My mom made this cake, from my grandmother’s recipe, for my 39th birthday. It makes a beautiful presentation in a footed glass bowl, served like a trifle, or you can make it in a charlotte mold and unmold it like a cake onto a platter. If you do unmold it, first dip the mold briefly in warm water to loosen the cake. Pour the crème anglaise on top and garnish with the chocolate curls.
Strega, meaning “witch” in Italian, is a yellow liqueur made from a blend of herbs and spices including saffron, which gives it its color. The key to the crème anglaise is cooking it until just right: One way to test it is to dip a spatula in the cream and run your finger through it. If your finger makes a trail rather than causes all of the custard to run off, it’s done.—Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone
For the simple syrup
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
For the mousse
7 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup Strega, kirsch, or rum
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar
For the cake
3/4 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup Strega, kirsch, or rum
20 to 25 ladyfingers, cut in half
For the crème anglaise
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 egg yolks
Make the simple syrup
1. Combine the sugar and water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to one week.
Make the mousse
1. Break the chocolate up and place it in the top half of a double boiler set over simmering water. Add the espresso powder and the 1/3 cup of Strega and let stand uncovered until the chocolate is softened. Stir until blended. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl.
2. In a large, chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream on high speed for 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes.
3. In a large mixer bowl with clean beaters, beat the whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the sugar and increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form.
4. Add the egg-yolk mixture to the chocolate and stir to combine. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.
Assemble the cake
1. Mix together the simple syrup and the 1/2 cup of Strega. Dip half of each ladyfinger in the syrup until slightly softened.
2. In a 2-quart glass serving bowl, make alternate layers of the mousse and ladyfingers, finishing with the mousse. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
Make the crème anglaise
1. In a large saucepan, bring the milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.
2. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thick and well blended. Gradually add about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the yolks and whisk until well incorporated. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly in a figure-eight motion, until thickened slightly and the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer. Cool in a bowl set over a bowl of ice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Serve scoops of the cake with Crème Anglaise and chocolate curls.
Chef’s tip: If the custard separates after it’s done, transfer it to a heatproof jar with a tight cover. Shake the jar vigorously until the sauce is blended.
Recipe © 2008 by Laurent Tourondel. All rights reserved.