RECIPE: Zuppa Inglese with strawberries

This gloriously sensual dessert translates to “English soup,” for reasons no one is entirely sure of; it’s similar to the famous English trifle, but a considerable improvement on that sherry-drenched, soggy concoction, and a lot more vibrant than its upstart cousin, tiramisu. The best version is made with strawberries, an easy but modestly elegant way to end a
 meal, and one of the best ways to welcome summer, at last. serves 8

4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 9-inch sponge cake, 2 inches thick
½ cup sweet (dolce) Marsala
1 pound strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
toasted sliced almonds for garnish (optional)

In a bowl, combine egg yolks, granulated sugar, and salt. Beat with a whisk or handheld electric mixer until smooth and creamy. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, 1 cup of the cream, and the vanilla bean, and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, just until the liquid begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and discard vanilla bean. Slowly pour ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then pour that mixture into the remaining milk mixture (this prevents curdling). Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens to a lightly creamy consistency, which may take as much as 20 minutes. Do not let it boil, or even simmer. Remove from heat. Add Grand Marnier liqueur. Pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled.

This is best constructed in a glass dish, which will show the layers, but a 9-inch souffle dish will also do. Cut the sponge cake horizontally into two equal layers, about 1-inch thick. Place a layer in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle half the Marsala over the layer. Top with half the strawberries and then the amaretti crumbs. Spread half the custard over the top. Repeat the process with another layer of cake, the remaining Marsala, strawberries, and custard. Cover and chill for 3 to 4 hours.

Remove from refrigerator half an hour before serving, to bring the temperature to just lightly chilled. Whip the remaining cup of cream and the superfine sugar till soft peaks form, and spread over the surface. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries, toasted slivered almonds, or both. To serve, scoop out carefully with a large spoon.

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