A Cake for Mom: Strawberry Ricotta Cake

The decision was made a while back by my 6-year-old that the cake for Mother’s Day will have lots of strawberries. So that was that. Diana had to choose if she wanted it chocolate mousse based or “something white and lighter”. She went for the latter choice. This delicious cake is a perfect spring time cake and a very good showcase for ripe strawberries. The recipe is from “The Pastry Queen” the book by Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas. That’s about an hour from Austin, in the Texas hill country. Her Tuxedo Cake, Mahogany Cake, Orange Muffins and Chocolate Chip Scones are all-time  favorites in my house. 

The base here is an angel food cake (egg whites+sugar+flour and NO fat) that incorporates orange and lemon zest and lemon juice in the mix for a good kick of flavor. I’ve baked this by itself before to eat with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of coffee. The cake is sliced horizontally and built in a plastic-lined bowl with a filling of sweetened ricotta flavored with vanilla. I let it sit in the fridge overnight to give it a chance to “meld”, the cake gets a bit softer as it absorbs a little of the ricotta’s water and the whole thing holds together very well in a dome shape.

To finish the cake, I flipped it out of the bowl and frosted it with sweetened whipped cream. To make sure any whipped cream frosting stays put on a cake, especially if the cake is not going to be served right away, I always add a little bit of gelatin (about 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups). It’s enough to make sure the frosting is stable but certainly not high enough to be noticable or to make the frosting rubbery. The last step is to cover the cake with rows of sliced ripe strawberries to resemble shingles on a roof. I served it with a bittersweet chocolate sauce. The cake was fantastic and mom was pleased.

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French Laundry: “Banana Split” – Poached Banana Ice Cream, White Chocolate-Banana Crepes and Chocolate Sauce

A classic flavor presented in a very untraditional and delicious way, classic Thomas Keller. Here we have sweet crepes, filled with a mixture of white chocolate and poached pureed bananas. I poached the bananas in a mixture of cream and milk until soft. The poaching liquid is then used to make a custard base for a vanilla bean ice cream that has a good banana flavor.

For the crepes, I filled them and formed them into cylinders with plastic wrap and then froze them till service time. They are then sliced and allowed to warm up a bit. I could be wrong but the goal here is to get a texture not unlike that of a ripe banana. By mixing the melted white chocolate with the banana puree and allow it to freeze and thaw, we get exactly that. A texture and taste that is familiar but at the same time not quiet so.

Garnishes, again, are very traditional. We have -or supposed to have- Maraschino cherries, sweetened whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Real Maraschino cherries are very different than that bright red crappy things you get in your frozen daiquiri. They are cherries soaked/candied in a Maraschino liquor such as the fantastic Luxardo. If we are going to be real traditional, the cherries are also supposed to be Marasca cherries. You can buy these delicious Maraschino cherries in gourmet shops or online, but they are not easy to find in your typical grocery store. Bottom line is: I had none, had no time to shop for them, so I made something to sub for them. What I did is bring sugar, brandy and port to a boil and turned off the heat. Then used that mixture to plump-up a bunch of dried Bing cherries. The result is not the same as the real deal, but still delicious and 100 times better than the fake orbs that garnish Shirley Temples everywhere.