By Marsha Fottler –
Need some inspiration to come up with a delicious summer dessert that will win you culinary fame – at least through the last bite? Why not put together a summer dessert repertoire based on custom creations named after famous people. You master both culinary techniques and a bit of world history at the same time. Here are four to get you started. Bet you can come up with others.
Strawberries Romanov is a light summer dessert named after the Romanov family, the imperial dynasty (1613 to 1917) that was the last to rule Russia. During their long and turbulent reign Russia became and remained a major European power and produced famous and infamous rulers such as Ivan The Terrible, Peter The Great and Catherine The Great. The dynasty came to a tragic end on July 16, 1918 when deposed czar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children were executed in the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg where they were being held prisoner by the revolutionaries. The monarchy ended. But, during more happy times spent in lavish summer palaces, Russian nobility enjoyed every kind of exotic food available from the West and East. Strawberries Romanov was just one. There are many variations on the recipe, but this one was always the personal favorite of the great gourmand, writer and teacher James Beard. As you can see, Beard’s recipe is written in a conversational style.
(from Beard on Food, by James Beard. Alfred Knopf, 1974.)
Hull 1 quart of ripe strawberries. Sprinkle with sugar to your liking. Then add the grated rind of 1 orange, approximately ? cup orange juice, and ½ cup port wine. Let the berries stand for several hours in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Just before serving, remove the berries and place in a serving dish with some of the juice. Whit 1 ½ cups heavy cream, flavor with sugar and vanilla and a few drop of port. Toss the berries with this cream and serve at once with slices of delicate pound cake or tiny sugar cookies. This is a superbly good dessert that does justice to the long and joyous strawberry season.
Peach Melba is named after Nellie Melba, an Australian singer (whose real name was Helen Mitchell) who was the reigning operatic soprano of her day. She was born in 1861 and died 69 years later from blood poisoning after a face lift that went terribly wrong. If you travel to Australia today, you’ll see Nellie Melba’s face on the $100 dollar bill. Before her ill-fated face lift. Nellie Melba sang at Covent Garden, The Metropolitan Opera House in New York and all across Europe where she was a genuine media superstar. When the singer was given a dinner in her honor by the Duke of Orleans at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1893, a variation of this dessert was created in her honor by the legendary chef Auguste Escoffier. It’s a lovely summer dessert and not difficult to make. Resist making your guests sing for their supper or for this dessert.
(from Nigella Lawson)
3 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups raspberries
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large tub vanilla ice
Put the water, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla pod into a wide saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring the pan to the boil and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to a fast simmer. Cut the peaches in half, and if the stones come out easily then remove them, if not then you can get them out later. Poach the peach halves in the sugar syrup for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Test the cut side with the sharp point of a knife to see if they are soft, and then remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon. When all the peaches are poached, peel off their skins and let them cool (then you can remove any remaining stones). If you are making them a day in advance then let the poaching syrup cool and then pour into a dish with the peaches. Otherwise just bag up the syrup and freeze it for the next time you poach peaches.
To make the raspberry sauce, liquidize the raspberries, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice in a blender or a food processor. Sieve to remove the pits and pour the puree into a jug. To assemble the Peach Melba, allow 2 peach halves per person and sit them on each plate alongside a scoop or 2 of ice cream. Spoon the raspberry sauce over each.
Baba au Rhum is named for the fictional character in The Thousand and One Nights, Ali Baba. The man who gave this dessert its exotic name was a king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczy’nski, who improved upon a sugar cake by steeping it (while still warm) in rum. It was so delicious, he named it after a book character he admired. This is not a complicated dessert to make, but it requires a lot of ingredients and several steps. Making this dessert takes time and a bit of trouble. Commit to it on a day when you have very little else to do. The results will delight your guests or family. Baba au Rhum is a classic and it deserves to be.
Baba au Rhum
(from Ina Garten)
1/3 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon good dark rum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 package dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Rum Syrup, recipe follows
3/4 cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water
Whipped Cream, recipe follows
Combine the currants and rum in a small bowl and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush a 5-cup (6 1/2 by 3 1/2-inch) tube pan or kugelhopf mold with the melted butter. Be sure to coat every crevice of the pan. Heat the milk to 115 degrees F and then pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the yeast and sugar and allow to sit for 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, first add the eggs, then the flour, salt, and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater to form the dough into a ball. It will be very soft. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow it to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Drain the currants, fold them into the dough with a spatula, and spoon into the prepared pan. Smooth the top, cover the pan with a damp towel, and allow to rise until the dough reaches the top of the pan, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and make the rum syrup.
Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then tap it out of the cake pan onto a baking rack set over a sheet pan. Pour all of the rum syrup very slowly onto the warm cake, allowing it all to soak in thoroughly. Amazingly, the liquid will be absorbed into the cake, so be sure to use all of the syrup. Heat the preserves with 1 tablespoon of water until runny, press it through a sieve, and brush it on the cake. Serve with whipped cream piped into the middle of the cake plus an extra bowl on the side.
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup good dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a 4-cup heat-proof measuring cup and allow to cool. Add the rum and vanilla and set aside.
2 cups (1 pint) cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until the cream forms stiff peaks. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with butter!
Pavlova is a feather-light sweet treat named for the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), probably the most famous ballerina in the world – during her lifetime and now. In 1926 when Pavlova was on a world tour, she performed in New Zealand where the smitten chef at the hotel in Wellington, created this dish for her. He was probably inspired by her performance in Swan Lake since the frothy white meringue of the dessert could reference her feathered costume. It was the white swan costume that Pavlova asked to be prepared for her as she lay dying. And she wanted the music from the ballet played too.
(from Martha Stewart, serves six)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whipped
10 passion fruits, for serving (optional)
4 bananas, for serving (optional)
Mixed berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, boysenberries, or blackberries, for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Using an 8-inch bowl as a guide, trace the perimeter of the bowl onto a sheet of parchment paper. Transfer parchment paper, pencil side down, to a baking sheet. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt together until glossy peaks form. With mixer running, add sugar in three additions, beating until meringue is stiff and glossy. Sprinkle in cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla; gently fold to combine. Mound the meringue in the center of the 8-inch circle. Using a spatula, evenly spread meringue out towards the edges. Transfer baking sheet to oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250 degrees. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off oven and let meringue cool completely in oven. When meringue is cool and completely dry, top with whipped cream and desired fruits.