Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Strawberry Cointreau torte

I really like reading Melissa Clark's "A Good Appetite" column in the NYTimes, even though I haven't tried many of her recipes (her olive oil brownies being a notable exception).  But last spring, when I saw this piece describing how she came up with a creamy strawberry moscato torte that is essentially a fruity tiramisu, I immediately added it to my absolutely-must-make list.  I finally got around to it (almost a year later) on Friday morning, starting with these lovelies:

Hello, strawberry season.

A bottle of moscato had been sitting in my cupboard for a few weeks, and I was going to use it as the recipe dictates, but I opened my cupboard on Friday to find that the bottle had somehow uncorked itself and drained until mostly empty (thus explaining the mysterious and distinctive-smelling puddle that I found on my kitchen floor earlier in the week, the source for which I couldn't identify at the time because my sink definitely wasn't leaking and I don't usually expect stored wine bottles to uncork themselves).  Long story short, I had no moscato, nor did I have time to go buy another bottle.  While slicing the strawberries, I remembered that I did have most of a bottle of Cointreau, which seemed like a reasonable substitute.  Since Cointreau is considerably stronger than moscato, I diluted it 50/50 with water before splashing some into the strawberries and also dipping the ladyfingers.

Just another weekday morning.....

The recipe also calls for heavy cream and vanilla beans to whisk in with the mascarpone; I had skim milk and vanilla extract, and that substitution ended up being acceptable (see last paragraph).  I assembled the tortes in two glass casserole dishes that easily survived a three-hour car ride (in a cooler) to Davis, which was fortunate because this dessert was a Mother's Day present for my mom.  The tortes tasted excellent, albeit boozier than I had expected, which may or may not be a flaw....


Plus, the result is quite attractive, as shown above.  As for the picture below, I slightly overfilled the second casserole dish I was using, so the lid was pressed down on and subsequently stuck to the top layer of ladyfingers, resulting in the strange appearance.  Fortunately that didn't affect the taste(Sidenote: Right after assembling the two tortes, I gave myself a taste test by drizzling some mascarpone over a few leftover spoonfuls of strawberries and a couple ladyfingers, and I nearly swooned.  It's really hard to go wrong with that combination of ingredients.)

I'll definitely be making this dessert again!  Notes for next time: I'll want to try heavy cream in place of skim milk (healthiness stopped being a consideration as soon as mascarpone entered the scene, anyway).  The mascarpone/milk mixture didn't exactly whisk into soft peaks, and by staying liquid, it sank into the other layers more than it otherwise would have.  Also, the bottom layer was definitely soggy a day later, which I know tends to happen with any kind of torte or trifle, but since this was my first time using ladyfingers and I didn't realize just how absorbent they are, I may very well have over-dipped them.  Next time, whether I use moscato or stick with Cointreau, I'll be sure to dip the ladyfingers as briefly as possible (or even just sprinkle the bottom layer for flavor without added moisture).   A shorter dip should make the finished product less alcoholic, as well.