Monday, May 31, 2010

Mother's Spanish Cream

Another week, another party. That's how we roll here in Pontlevoy. Claire and I have decided that since we're stuck here (well, she feels stuck. I love it here!), we should make the most of it by spending time with friends. So on Friday we had a garden party with friends--some expats, some true Ponteleviens. One friend made a vat of sangria, others brought food--and Sami showed up just in time to man the grill so that we could have delicious lamb in pita. And then we had Spanish Cream.

This is a really nice warm weather dessert. It has a bit of oomph to it, but it seems light and cool and refreshing and goes well with fruit and whipped cream. But people weren't sure what to make of it--is it a cream? a custard? a flan? Well, I'm not sure myself. I saw a recipe for vanilla Bavarian cream that resembles this one a lot, except for the almond cookies and the egg whites. And I remember that there's a restaurant in Tuscaloosa that serves "Swedish cream" that's also pretty similar. I guess what makes this Spanish is the almond cookies.

Maida raves about the layering in this dessert: custard, then cookies, then fluffy egg white. Mine didn't separate all that much--the meringue especially wasn't much of a layer--but it was still delicious, and more important, GONE by the next morning. I like that in a dessert.
Here's the recipe. Make it for your next garden party or whenever you don't feel like turning on the oven.

Mother’s Spanish Cream

Dry almond macaroons like amaretti, to make 1/2 c. crumbs
3 c. milk, or half and half, or a combination
2 envelopes (or 5 leaves) unflavored gelatin
1/2 c. cold water
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
generous pinch salt

Find a Jell-o mold or a silicone form; if you don’t have one, a big bowl would probably work. Also get out a medium saucepan, a medium bowl (the egg yolks can go in there), and a smallish bowl (the egg whites can go in there). Crush the cookies coarsely (put them in a Ziploc bag and pound them with a hammer) and set aside. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until scalding. While it heats, dissolve the gelatin in the cold water. Also, whisk the egg yolks with 6 T (3 oz.) sugar for a couple of minutes, until they are somewhat lighter in color. By this point, your milk should be nice and hot. Pour some of it gradually into the egg yolks, whisking all the while. Then pour the egg yolk-milk mixture back into the saucepan, return to medium-low heat, and heat to 180 or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon: the famous crème anglaise. Pour through a fine sieve back into the original bowl and add the vanilla, almond extract, and cookie crumbs. Set aside for a minute. Add the salt to the egg whites in the smallish bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until they are very foamy; then add the remaining 2 T/0.5 oz. sugar and beat until the egg whites hold stiff peaks. Ladle some of the hot custard into the egg whites and fold it in carefully, then pour the mixture into the egg yolk bowl and fold it together as best you can. It’s going to separate out anyway, so don’t worry if it doesn’t incorporate well. Get the Jell-o mold and run cold water over it; shake it dry. Now pour the cream in there and put it in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
When it’s time to serve, get out a basin or pan that’s bigger than your mold and fill it with hot water. Dip the mold in there for a few seconds, then cover it with a plate, turn it upside down, and hope for the best. Mine came out just fine.
Serve this plain or with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

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