This recipe is stunning, although it does require some time to prepare. I recommend setting aside a rainy summer’s afternoon to really enjoy the process of making something beautiful. The filling is crème diplomat (diplomat cream), which is a crème pâtissière with whipped cream added to lighten it. Some fraisier cakes are made with rich crème mousseline. As my recipe includes the strong flavour of port, diplomat cream is a better choice.
First make the genoise sponges. Fill a medium pan a quarter full with water and bring it to the boil. Once it is boiling remove it from the heat. Put the eggs into a bowl and set the bowl over the pan. Make sure that the pan is not too full, as you don’t want any water splashing into the bowl.
Keep the pan off the heat and whisk up the eggs until they begin to thicken. I like to use a hand-held electric whisk for this. Add one quarter of the sugar (
Pour the melted butter into the bowl, tipping it around the sides of the bowl so as not to knock out all of the air you have just whisked into your lovely mixture. Using a spatula, fold in the butter, using as few stirs as possible to keep the air in.
Once the butter is almost all mixed in, add a third of the flour, then carefully fold this in. I find that the trick is to do this quickly, keeping as much of the air in as possible. Repeat twice more to add the rest of the flour, making sure you fold in all of the flour as it can sometimes fall to the bottom of the bowl. Once you are happy with your mixture, divide the sponge mixture between the two lined baking trays.
Use a large palette knife to make them nice and even, but be light-handed with the palette knife so that the air stays in the cakes. Then pop them into the oven for 12–15 minutes, or until the sponges are cooked through, golden brown in colour and have just started to shrink slightly from the edges of the trays. Set the cakes aside to cool down completely.
To prepare the strawberries, first of all set aside
For the diplomat cream, put the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water, then set aside to soak so that they become really soft. As the gelatine is soaking mix the egg yolks and sugar together well in a large bowl, whisking them up until they are just a little light and fluffy – they don’t need much air in them. Then add the cornflour, mix to combine and set this aside.
Heat the milk with the seeds of one vanilla pod or
Pour the egg–milk mixture back into the pan that you used to heat the milk, and return this pan to the heat. Stirring all the time,
Remove the gelatine from the bowl and squeeze out, discarding as much of the water as you can. Add the softened gelatine to the hot mixture. Take the pan off the heat and then keep stirring it all the time to make sure that the gelatine completely dissolves into the pastry cream. Once it is dissolved, pour the cream into a bowl to cool down, covering it with baking parchment on the surface so that a skin does not form.
Once the pastry cream has cooled down, whip the cream along with the rest of the vanilla until you reach soft peaks. It needs to be a similar texture to the pastry cream. Remove the baking parchment from the pastry cream and add half of the whipped cream to it, whisking it together to combine. Using a spatula, fold in the remaining cream. Once everything is all mixed in, cover your cream and set it aside – this is now called diplomat cream.
Now it’s time for the assembly! Take a sponge and place it sponge-side down and baking parchment-side up onto a large chopping board. Peel off the baking parchment. Take the cake ring and place it on the sponge – you may be able to simply press down and cut out the sponge circle, but if that does not work, you can use a sharp knife to cut around the outside of the ring. Then set the circle aside. You could save the cake scraps for another use, such as for cake pops or trifle (they will freeze for up to a month).
Take the second sponge and turn it upside down and parchment-side up onto the chopping board. Peel off the baking parchment and cut out another circle as above. Set this aside, saving the cake scraps for another use.
Take a large flat baking sheet and line it with baking parchment. Line the sides of your cake ring with baking parchment and place it on top of the lined baking sheet.
Remove the strawberries from the macerating liquid, and set them aside, reserving the liquid. Put one of the sponge layers inside the ring and then brush about half of the macerating liquid all over the top of the sponge.
Take half of the whole reserved large strawberries, cut off the green stems and cut them in half. Place the halves all the way around the inner edge of the ring so that the cut sides are facing outwards and the pointy ends are upwards. Place them really neatly and close together for the prettiest result – use a palette knife to help place them if you need to.
Setting aside one third of the diplomat cream for the top, put the rest into the piping bag and snip the tip to give a
Place the second sponge circle on top of the macerated berries. Brush the sponge evenly with the rest of the reserved macerating liquid. Top with the diplomat cream all the way to the top of the cake ring, using a large flexible palette knife to make sure the top is flat and even. Now place the gateau in the fridge for at least 2–3 hours to set.
When you are ready to serve, remove the cake from the fridge. Rub the cake ring with your hands to warm it, and then lift it off. Top with the remaining strawberries, cutting them in half and leaving the green tops on for colour if you like. Serve.
© Lorraine Pascale, 2017. Images: © Myles New, 2017.