Daring Bakers Challenge - Strawberry Frasier

I have not reached where I want to be, but I would not have been here, if I hadn't started. With every small step, I'm learning and hopefully growing. And that's what matters. After all the only one who never erred is the one who never tried. So I challenged myself to become better at baking by joining the Daring Bakers. And I'm really excited to post my first Daring Bakers Challenge. 

Like many of you, the movie "Julie & Julia" was a big turning point for the foodie in me. It made me switch from being a side watcher to take the plunge into the kitchen. There were so many nuances of the characters of both Julie & Julia that I felt connected to. The boredom, the self doubts, the desire to learn and love for food. I knew it was a signal for me. It enlighted the passion of cooking and blogging for me. And also showed me the essence of French cooking. The finest of all.

And seeing my first Daring Bakers challenge to be a French classic - Frasiers, got me really excited. And intimidated. After all it had all the components, which I had never tried my hand at. Chiffon cake, pastry cream, meringue all were non treaded areas for me. 

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers' host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers, inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Roberston in the beautiful book Tartine

I got to admit that I had no clue what a Frasier was, until I saw this challenge. Frasier is a French classic dessert made of chiffon cake layers, moistened with sugar syrup and layered with fresh strawberries and pastry cream and topped with almond paste. Sounds exquisite!! It is. Though it could very well be made with other fruits too, to suit the seasonal availability and taste preferences. Yet being new to it all, I stuck to the classic combinations.

Frasier components: (Please be ready for a really long recipe)
1 baked 8 inch chiffon cake - Vanilla, lemon, Chocolate, Coffee, Orange etc
1 recipe pastry cream filling - Choice of your flavour
cup (80 ml) sugar syrup - plain or flavoured
2 lbs (900 g) strawberries/ or your choice of fruits
1/2 cup almond paste1

Basic Chiffon Cake Recipe:
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (270 ml) (5½ oz/155 gm) all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (4 gm) baking powder

  • 3/4 cups (180 ml) (6 oz /170 gm) sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (1½ gm) salt, preferably kosher

  • 1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) vegetable oil

  • 3 large egg yolks

  • cup + 1 tablespoon (3.17 fl oz/95 ml) water

  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract

  • 3/4 teaspoon (3¾ ml) (3 gm) lemon zest, grated

  • 5 large egg whites

  • ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1 gm) cream of tartar

  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F (160°C/gas mark 3).

  2. Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add in all but 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) of sugar, and all of the salt. Stir to combine.

  4. In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.

  5. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.

  6. Put the egg whites into a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed using a whisk attachment on a medium speed, until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.

  7. Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.

  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack. To unmold, run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the spring form sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment paper. You can refrigerate for up to four days.

Pastry Cream Filling:
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) pure vanilla extract

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) (10 gm)cornstarch

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) (2 oz/55 gm) sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz/30 gm) unsalted butter

  • 3/4 teaspoon (3¾ ml) (4 gm) gelatin

  • 1/2 tablespoon (7½ ml) water

  • 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) heavy cream

  1. Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and scald, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.

  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine

  3. Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.

  4. When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while the stand mixer is whisking, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.

  5. Pour the mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon.

  6. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.

  7. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream a piece at a time until smooth.

  8. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.

  9. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.

  10. Put two inches (55 mm) of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.

  11. Measure 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.

  12. Heat the cream until it is 120 F (48.8 C). Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.

  13. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.

Simple Syrup:

1/3 cup (80 ml) of sugar, flavored or white & 1/3 cup (2⅔ fl oz/80 ml) of water

  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stir lightly in between.

  2. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly. Transfer syrup to a lidded container or jar that can be stored in the refrigerator. 

Frasier Assembling Directions:
  1. Line the sides of a 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan. 

  2. Cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers. 

  3. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the simple syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough. 

  4. Hull and slice in half enough strawberries to arrange around the sides of the cake pan. Place the cut side of the strawberry against the sides of the pan, point side up forming a ring. 

  5. Pipe cream in-between strawberries and a thin layer across the top of the cake.

  6. Hull and quarter your remaining strawberries and place them in the middle of the cake. Cover the strawberries and entirely with the all but 1 tbsp. (15 ml) of the pastry cream. 

  7. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the simple syrup. 

  8. Lightly dust a work surface with confectioners' sugar and roll out the almond paste (if using) to a 10-inch round & 1.5 mm thick. Spread the remaining 1 tablespoon of pastry cream on the top of the cake and cover with the round of almond paste.

  9. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap. 

  1. I made 2 thinner cakes, than 1 large. Hence the height of layers is not balanced. But if you have a deeper pan, then that should not be a problem

  2. I made basic chiffon cake, simple sugar syrup and vanilla pastry cream. 

  3. I skipped the almond paste topping, since for me it was already a great cake. Instead I dusted my cake with cocoa powder & icing powder & simply decorated with choco chips

  4. I made meringue for the first time & learnt lots of lessons, namely:

  • Cold eggs get separated far more easily. But slightly warmer or eggs at room temp whip better. So take out cold (even slightly older eggs work better) from the fridge, separte it and then lit it sit for 15 mins before whisking.

  • Mositure is the biggest enemy of meringue. So the mixing bowl & whisk both needs to absolutely free from moisture or dirt. 

  • Even a speck of yolk spoils the whole process. Even though I knew it, I learnt how a tiny bit of yolk can cost you your 5 eggs. So if a speck of it falls into the white, immediately remove it with the egg shell

  • Cream of tartar works as a great stabilizing agent. Even adding salt at the start of the whisking helps in getting the perfect meringue

  • After you get the shiny peaks of eggs, stop beating

Thanks Jana for this lovely challenge. Already excited about the next one.

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