This recipe below is a little Artusi – a layer of apricot jam appears, a little English trifle-like – and this easy pastry cream is his. But I've included a layer of chocolate pastry cream, as the bitterness of the dark chocolate contrasts wonderfully with the rest of the dessert, and it's topped it with plain whipped cream. But some like to top it with a fine layer of bittersweet cocoa powder instead. If you can't find Alchermes, Pomegranate liqueur or syrup can be easier to find (and is a lovely, slightly sour flavour in this) but it won't have the same colour that the more traditional Alchermes does. If you want to make a non-alcoholic version, use simply the sugar syrup and pomegranate syrup or juice. —Emiko
For the pastry creams
(170 grams) fine sugar
(80 grams) cornstarch
vanilla pod, seeds scraped
(1 litre) milk
(100 grams) dark chocolate
For the assembly:
(500 grams) lady finger biscuits
(250 ml) water
1 1/2 ounces
(50 ml) of rum or marsala
(80 ml) of Alchermes (or Pomegranate liqueur or syrup)
To make the pastry creams, whisk the yolks and sugar until smooth in a heatproof bowl. Add the cornstarch, vanilla seeds and then the milk, a little bit at first then the rest. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (double broiler) and stir steadily until thickened. It will thicken quite suddenly, so pay attention to the point when you see it begin to thicken – shortly after, you're done.
Set aside two-thirds of the pastry cream in a separate bowl to cool. With the rest, stir through the chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces, while still hot, so the chocolate melts and incorporates into a smooth, chocolate pastry cream. Set aside to cool.
Prepare a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a small saucepan and allowing to simmer about 5 minutes. Let cool, then add the rum and Alchermes (or pomegranate). Dip the lady fingers, one by one, into this syrup mixture and place side by side to cover the bottom of a glass bowl.
Cover the first layer of lady fingers with the apricot jam, then a layer of half the vanilla pastry cream (should be about half an inch to an inch high). Place another layer of dipped lady fingers over the pastry cream, followed by the layer of chocolate pastry cream. A final layer of dipped lady fingers is then topped with the rest of the vanilla pastry cream and finally freshly whipped cream.
Chill in the fridge at least 2 hours (or overnight) before serving.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.