Strawberry and Mascarpone Cake

I love it when my family gets together for an occasion because it always means one important thing… Great bloody food. It’s a widely known fact the women in my family can cook, can cook very well and can cook well for a crowd (even if there ain’t no crowd). When I received the invitation to my cousin’s son’s christening, my automatic response was ‘I’ll bring dessert!’. Five minutes later I was nervous. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test out another of Neil Perry’s desserts but I didn’t feel confident. After all, I had never meringued before (due to my egg-cookery phobia) and I would be baking for the best. I figured that all I could do was give it my best shot and if those tricky little suckers don’t get all stiff peaky, then I would bin it and resort to my “sure-thing” – banoffee pie.

In retrospect, I should’ve made two ’cause this little gem was a smash hit! Apparently it had something to do with the light and fluffy coconut meringue and the super fresh strawberries combination. The flavour combo in this dessert is so spot on that people were exclaiming that it was the best cake they had ever eaten! Don’t worry Neil, I gave you little bit of the credit.

As per Neil’s instructions, I actually made the cake the night before so it could set in the fridge overnight. So Saturday night after pizza and a dvd with Willy and Phil, I set myself to the task at hand. I was pretty exhausted at this point as I had gotten up early that day to make the Lime Syrup Cake and then proceeded to drive all around Wollongong and Sydney like a mad woman running errands. It was the first time I had stopped all day. I’m not going to tell you how many times I nearly passed out into my egg whites. Death by meringue. What a way to go.

As mentioned earlier, it was the first time I had ever made meringue. I had been so busy that day that I didn’t really have a spare moment to dwell on the fact that I would, in fact, be attempting to beat egg whites into stiff peaks later that night. Probably a good thing too as my fear of egg cookery may have prevented me from delivering the finished product. So here I am, happily separating eggs (not really happily, I find separating eggs quite stressful and I’m not very good at it… always turns into an egg shell fishing expedition) still not having really cottoned onto the fact that momentarily I would be required to beat them. Into stiff peaks. But not over beat them. Or they will flop. The enormity of this task had not quite hit me.

Ladies and gents, without further ado, please welcome…

SILKY EGG WHITES

Once the whites were sufficiently beaten with some sugar, I folded in the almond meal, desiccated coconut and some icing sugar nice and gentle. Then a softly made meringue circles 1cm thick (as per Neil’s instructions) on a couple of baking trays – these were to become the top and bottom of my cake. They went into the oven for a bit.

They look alright, right??!

The other large component of this dessert, which I have failed to mention until now due to my obsessive egg white ramblings, is mascarpone. This would be the first time I have ever bought or used mascarpone. Neil suggests in his book to source good quality mascarpone. Due to my mascarpone-deficient baking resume, I’m not sure how to determine good from bad so I head to the local deli and pick up the ‘spensive stuff. That oughta do it.

I popped the pricey mascarpone into a bowl with a couple o’yolks and some sugar and beat it till it was nice and thick.

I then made a little bit more meringue mix (the whites from the above pictured yolks) and folded that into my mascarpone mix to soften it up.

Lastly, I sliced up my glorious strawberries in preparation for the cake.

Once my meringue circles were ready, I cooled them and then set one of them (the worse looking one) at the bottom of a springform cake tin. On top of that I layered half of the mascarpone mix followed by the sliced strawberries, the rest of the mascarpone and finished it off by setting the best meringue circle on top. It was then put into the fridge overnight to set.

It was quite a nerve-racking experience taking this cake to the christening after party because I took it in its cake tin so I hadn’t actually seen since the night before. Scary. However, when my cousin removed the cake ring, I was pleasantly surprised.

As you can see, it is slightly smooshed from the tight dress it was wearing but otherwise, gorgeous¬†(and you can see it’s mate, Lime Syrup Cake in the background).

This cake was a HUGE hit. Seriously, it went so fast, I was lucky to get a small slice. The meringue was lovely. It was light and fluffy with that wonderful, but not overpowering, taste of coconut. The mascarpone was also, surprisingly, light and creamy and just melted in your mouth. And the strawberries? Glorious. A perfect example of why you should always use fruits and veg that are in season.

Verdict?