Anyone who knows me as a chef, knows that I don’t spend too much time baking. It’s not that I don’t enjoy baking; I do. It’s not that I’m not good at it; I got straight A’s in my culinary school baking classes. It’s not even that I don’t think it’s worth the time; a day spent baking results in phenomenally delicious treats. It’s just that I, like many of you, don’t have the time to spend hours on end making desserts, nor do I have a team of dishwashers cleaning up the mountain of dishes they cause. There is a reason why so many fine dining restaurants hire a pastry chef (or team of them) to create fantastic desserts.
In my career however, I haven’t always had a team of pastry chefs or even a single cook skilled in the art. I’ve often had to improvise and put together simple desserts that taste great without devoting too much precious time to the task. This dessert has always been one of my favorite because it’s simple, tasty and looks beautiful. I used a ring of angel food cake from my local market, but the berries and cream are the star of this dish and almost any cake or shortbread will do. I was making this cake for a large group, but when plating this individually, I love to use thick-cut slices of toasted pound cake. If you’ve never experienced the simple pleasure of toasted pound cake, then you really need to try it.
There are essentially three elements to this dessert (berries, cream and cake) and all can be arranged a few hours ahead of time. I know, I cheated and bought the cake, so maybe it’s not technically a five-minute dessert. If you have the time, the patience and the ability to make your own cake, by all means go for it; I’m sure it will probably taste better than my Shop Rite cake. I don’t have a recipe for you to make the cake, but Google can help you with that if you prefer. Below you can find my tips for vanilla whipped cream and macerated berries.
This is a great technique that you can use on more than just strawberries and if you have great blackberries, blueberries or raspberries available, feel free to add them in.
For about 2 pints of berries (slice strawberries in half or quarters), add about 1 Tbsp granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp Grand Marnier and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you plan on serving kids or teetotalers, you can substitute orange juice for the Grand Marnier.
Toss the berries in the cinnamon, sugar and liquor (or juice). Cover and set aside in the fridge for at least one hour which will allow a nice syrup to develop.
Vanilla Whipped Cream
This one is a little easier if you have a Kitchen Aid or other electric mixer, but all you really need is a large bowl and a wire whisk. Yes, I know the stores sell whipped cream in a can, and considering my stance on buying cakes you’re probably thinking: “Why not?” I’ve already compromised on the values of homemade baking, but seriously, homemade whipped cream takes about 3 minutes (even less with a mixer) and it tastes better so there’s no need to compromise here, right?
You will need either heavy cream, whipping cream, or double cream (UK) as well as 10x sugar (AKA confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar) and vanilla extract. Whipping the cream will result in roughly double the volume of the cream you started with. For a pint of cream, add 1 Tbsp sugar (adjust for desired sweetness) and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Whisk the cream until you get “stiff peaks”, meaning that you can lift some of the cream and it will hold its shape without immediately collapsing. Just be aware that you can easily over-whip the cream resulting in a thick, buttery mess. If using an electric mixer, pay close attention, because you can over-whip in a matter of seconds.
For those of you in the UK, or other regions where cream comes in several varieties, be aware that single cream does not have enough fat to whip. I learned this the hard way, spending 20 minutes trying to make whipped cream in my first week here. If vanilla isn’t really your thing, or you want to go a different direction, substitute almond extract for the vanilla.
Assembling the Dessert
If you do use a cake baked in a ring mold and it has a hole in the center, layer it with cream and berries until the berries spill over the top and around the sides. Use any excess syrup in the berry bowl to pour over the cake. Top the berries with a nice peak of cream and garnish with fresh chopped mint.