This dessert is so darned pretty, it's just begging for a garden party. If you have activities planned prior to serving dessert, you may want to hide these tarts because otherwise they are going to be all anyone can talk about or look at or be dying to eat ASAP. By making your own ladyfingers, you can tailor the size of your "picket fence" to suit your own taste.
Makes 8 individual tarts
FOR THE LADYFINGERS:
4 eggs, separated
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (140 g) cake flour, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (100 g) confectioners' sugar, for dusting
1 cup (240 ml) ice cubes
FOR THE FILLING:
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream, divided
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
5 tablespoons (40 g) cornstarch
¼ cup (60 ml) raspberry purée (see page 48)
FOR THE ASSEMBLY:
2 cups (250 g) fresh raspberries
2 cups (250 g) mixed whole fresh berries
1 spool decorative ribbon, 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide
Make the ladyfingers:
Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a clean bowl.
In the same stand mixer bowl (you needn't clean it), combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Whisk until the yolks become thick and pale and the mixture forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted.
Sift the flour over the egg yolk mixture and add one- quarter of the egg white mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold together gently. Add the remaining egg whites and fold into the batter.
Transfer the batter to a large pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe 8 circles, each 2 inches (5 cm) wide, on the first sheet pan; these will act as the base of your cakes. On the second sheet pan, pipe the remaining batter into strips 3 inches (7.5 cm) long. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the circles and strips with half of the confectioners' sugar; allow the sugar to dissolve into the batter completely. Dust again with the remaining confectioners' sugar and allow to sit undisturbed for 3 minutes.
Place a piece of parchment next to the sheet pans. Lift the parchment holding the ladyfinger batter and tilt it up a bit, so that the extra confectioners' sugar on the parchment falls onto your empty piece of parchment. Open the oven doors and toss the ice cubes onto the bottom of the oven. Close the doors for 10 seconds. Place the ladyfingers in the now steaming oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sugar beads on top and the ladyfingers are lightly golden brown. Allow to cool completely.
Make the filling:
In a large saucepan, combine the milk and 1 cup (240 ml) of the cream and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the granulated sugar, egg yolks, salt, cornstarch, and raspberry purée. Whisk on high speed until combined. Once the milk mixture has come to a simmer, slowly pour it down the side of the bowl into the whisking egg yolk mixture and continue whisking until well combined.
Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan. Over medium heat, whisk constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface so that a skin doesn't form. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.
Remove the filling from the refrigerator. It will have firmed up quite a bit; stir it with a wooden spoon until it loosens and is smooth.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the filling until combined. Transfer the raspberry filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip.
Place 8 metal rings (see Sidebar, page 201) on a parchment-lined half sheet pan. Line each ring with ladyfingers, the sugar-dusted side facing out, by standing them up side by side until the ring is filled. Place a ladyfinger cake round into the bottom of the ring, trimming the round if it's too tight a fit with the standing ladyfingers. Repeat with each of the remaining rings.
Place 3 raspberries on the bottom layer of each ring. Pipe filling into each ring until it just reaches the top of the standing ladyfingers. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
To serve, carefully remove the rings. (Heat the rings gently with a kitchen torch or blow dryer for easier removal if necessary.) Arrange the mixed berries atop the filling. For an especially adorable presentation, gently tie a ribbon around each tart.
A NOTE FROM THE SWEET TALKER:
Confectioner's sugar, aka powdered sugar: You know the stuff, but what you might not know is that it's full of cornstarch. In many applications, this extra cornstarch doesn't really affect the recipe. But in some cases, it's best to make your own confectioners' sugar for maximum results. To make your own, simply add 1 cup (200 g) of granulated sugar at a time to your food processor or blender. Pulse until the sugar becomes a powder. Run the powder through a fine-mesh sieve to eliminate any residual granules, and then measure per the recipe. For recipes like individual ladyfingers, making confectioners' sugar from scratch (i.e., minus the cornstarch) is key for the sugar to bead properly on top of the ladyfingers. Plus, it's so easy!
Bake It Like You Mean It, Published by Stewart Tabori & Chang, Photography by Tina Rupp, £18.99; www.amazon.co.uk