Sunday, June 2, 2013

Recipe of the Month: Gâteau fraisier

June is here, and fruit is arriving by truckload from the south.  Especially strawberries.
     I’ve tried to grow them myself, on two continents.  In Ann Arbor, the sun got them.  Dried ‘em right up out of their special ceramic strawberry pot near the side door.  In Paris, the few that managed to find sufficient sun were picked off by the resident merle chanteur (singing blackbird) in my garden.  (So were the cherry tomatoes that would have been red-ripe enough to eat by that evening.)
     In strawberry season, French pâtisserie shop windows are rife with red.  It catches the eye and then, like Pavlov’s dog, the mouth starts to water.
     A fraisier is an opportunity to set free your inner artist.  The elements are always the same: a génoise cake, crème mousseline filling, strawberries.  How you decide to put them all together is 100% you.  It can be as simple or intricate as you like.  But it will always look more intricate than it actually was.  A real Show Stopper.
     There are also shortcuts you can take.  Mainly in the cake part.  If you’re short on time and you know of a delicious one you can buy off the shelf, go right ahead.  Or you can make it yourself, if you like baking.  And I suppose, if push came to shove, you could use whipped cream instead of the crème.
     So let your inner artist out.  Your guests will thank you.

P.S.  Although I was part of the Cinema Guild at the University of Michigan, and I saw Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” there, I had no idea what it meant.  Except that some strawberries had gone rogue.  When I got to France, I found out that wild strawberries are fairly small and different from any other strawberry I ever tasted.  A much richer flavor.  Unfortunately, they're way too small for this.


  • 7 eggs
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ c clarified unsalted butter

- Break the eggs into a large bowl, lightly mix in the sugar using a fork.  Then place the bowl over simmering water and beat with a whisk until it feels hot to the touch.  Remove from the heat and beat with an egg beater for about 15 minutes until it has cooled completely and has tripled in volume.  It should form a ribbon when falling from a spoon.  Beat in the vanilla.
- Gently fold in the flour, alternating with the melted but cooled clarified butter, adding a little of each at a time.
- Immediately pour into two pre-greased 9" round cake pans and cook in a preheated 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes.  The cake is done when it springs back if you touch it lightly in the center.
- As soon as you take the cakes out of the oven, turn them out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.
NOTE: Clarified butter is butter that has been melted over very low heat until it separates, the particles sink to the bottom and foam stops rising to the surface.  Skim off the foam as it is formed.  Once melted, strain it through an extremely fine sieve or cheesecloth doubled over.  It should be allowed to cool until lukewarm before being used for the cake.  If you want a short-cut, you can melt the butter in the microwave and I won’t tell anyone.

Crème mousseline

  • 2.1 c (½ l) milk
  • 4-5 egg yolks (depending on size of egg)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 c (2.8 oz / 80 g) of sugar
  • 2.6 T (1.4 oz / 40 g) of flour + 2 T (30 g) of cornstarch 
  • 14 T (7 oz / 200 g) of butter

- Slit the vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise and heat it in the milk.  Don’t bring the milk to a boil.
- Cream the egg yolks and the sugar until uniformly mixed.  (If you beat it too much you’ll get too much air into it and the crème mousseline will lose its color.)
- Sift the flour and cornstarch together.  Little by little whisk them into the egg/sugar mixture.
- After removing the vanilla bean, whisk in half of the milk, but don’t let it get too foamy.  Beat until the consistency is uniform.  The crème will have started to thicken a bit.
- Pour the crème into the saucepan with the remaining milk and bring it slowly to a boil, whisking it constantly (and throughout the entire saucepan).  It will continue to thicken.
- Cut up half the butter and add it in while the crème is still warm.  Let it all cool.
- While the crème is cooling, work the remaining half of the butter with a fork or metal spatula until it’s smooth and creamy.
- When the butter and the crème have reached about the same temperature, whisk them together and let it all finish cooling to room temperature.
You’re ready to assemble the fraisier now.


Here’s where your creativity comes in.  However, there's one golden rule:  there must be something between the two layers of cake.  It can be just the crème or crème with sliced strawberries.  I suggest the latter because a plain génoise can be dry.  Besides, it’s more festive that way.
Then you move on to the sides, which you frost with the crème mousseline.  And then you stick some strawberry slices upright into the crème, or half-strawberries if they’ll stay in place.
Lastly, frost the top.  Then you can make any design you want with the strawberries, sliced or halved or whole.  You can cover the entire top of the cake or only part.  You can even add some other fresh fruits for color.  And maybe some tiny mint leaves.  The goal is to make it look so good that you have to hide it until the dessert course.

TIP:  Never ever cut the top off the strawberries until after they’ve been washed.  If you do, water gets in and it spoils the taste.  And dry them well before you start the decorating.

Although it’s in French, there are photos with this website which will show you the making of the crème mousseline:

1 comment:

  1. Wild strawberries, never bigger than the top of my thumb and usually the size of my pinkie-tip, were an important part of my childhood summers.