A Berry Happy Birthday

June 17, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Melissa Graham

I can pinpoint the precise moment that I became a locavore and it far before the word entered the American lexicon. As a child growing up on Long Island with a middle-of-June birthday, strawberries were always part of our family celebration. I have memories of these big juicy, ruby red to core, strawberries, grown locally, sometimes even picked by my own little fingers at U-Pick farms. When I went on to college and then law school, I didn’t have much time for farmers’ markets, if I could even find one. And my memory of these little gems grew faint tainted by the industrial California version bred for shipping not flavor.

Then early in June back in 2001, I discovered the Green City Market. Mounds of pristine, multi-shaped strawberries graced many a table. Like Proust’s madeleine, one taste transported me to those birthdays of my childhood and my life, or at least my diet, was forever changed.

My birthday happens to coincide with my father’s and despite living states away, we spend most of our celebrations together. 2008 marked his 75th birthday and this year was a big one for me. As a result, we’ve needed a cake big in size and stature. The following recipe, which I created last year, fits the bill.

For more strawberry recipes, stop by Bloomie’s Home Store in the Medinah Temple building for my demo focusing on the little jewels Saturday at 1:00pm.

Almond Dacquoise with Strawberry Mousse Covered in Vanilla Buttercream
Serves 15

4 cups blanched almonds, toasted
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
12 large egg whites
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pint strawberries, pureed and strained
1½ packages Knox gelatin
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
6 ounces pasteurized egg whites, preferably Organic Valley
2 cup unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Almond Dacquoise: Preheat oven to 300° F. Trace circles with the bottom of a 12-inch springform pan onto three pieces of parchment. In a food processor, grind the almonds with 2 cups granulated sugar and cornstarch until the mixture is sandy and finely-ground. In the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on medium heat until frothy and opaque. Increase the speed to medium high, adding the sugar in a slow and steady stream. Beat until the whites maintain a stiff peak. Fold the dry ingredients and the vanilla into the egg whites. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tip. Starting from the center, pipe out three circles within the traced lines on the parchment. Bake for 45 minutes or until the circles are firm to the touch and lightly browned.
Strawberry Mousse: Bring 1 ½ cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan to a simmer. Whisk together yolks, sugar and a pinch of kosher salt. Add cream to yolk mixture in a slow stream. Return the mix to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat until the temperature reaches 160ºF. Strain custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl and add vanilla extract. Dump the gelatin into a small bowl filled with 3 tablespoons warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Set the bowl over a small pot filled about 2-inches high with simmering water. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved and then add to the custard stirring until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, whip the remaining heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold a quarter of the cream into the custard to lighten it and then fold in the remainder gently. Gently fold in strawberry puree.
Vanilla Buttercream: Put sugar and egg whites into bowl of stand mixer. Set bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture is very warm, approximately 5 minutes. Put the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk and beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture is cool, approximately 10 minutes. While the mixer is running on medium, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add vanilla. The mixture will look curdled; don’t worry, it will come together. Reduce speed to low and beat until smooth.
Assembling: Put the least perfect dacquoise layer in the bottom of a 12-inch springform pan. Layer half of the strawberry mousse. Top with a second layer. Top with remaining mousse and top with the last dacquoise layer smooth side up. Freeze for 1 hour. You could layer the butter cream on the top of the cake and decorate with start tip a few hours before serving and returning to the freezer.