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For a Party, Nothing Succeeds Like a Selection of Luscious Desserts

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The most successful party I’ve given recently was by accident. After a big reception, we had a surplus of desserts. Friends dropped by in the way they do, and before we knew it a party was in full swing. Looking back, I should have known--nothing succeeds like a luscious dessert.

Take Trifle, for example, which is a far from trifling combination of poached fruit and cake soaked in Sherry and fruit juice, topped with vanilla custard, whipped cream and toasted almonds--shades of my childhood. To anyone British, Trifle evokes images of Victorian England and leisurely Sunday lunch.

Strawberry Charlotte Malakoff has a touch of the Russian about it. Malakoff was a fortress in the Crimea and more than one dish has been named for battles in that tragic 19th-Century war. Appropriately, the bucket shape of a charlotte mold resembles a castle, fortified here with walls of ladyfingers filled with strawberries, ground almonds, sugar and cream. Like Trifle, this dessert keeps extraordinarily well, setting so it can be cut in neat wedges for serving.

Savarin is firmly French, named for 19th-Century gastronome Brillat-Savarin. The cake consists of a yeast dough, baked in a ring mold and soaked in sugar syrup laced with rum or a favorite spirit. In this recipe I’ve suggested filling the ring with a salad of exotic fruits--mango, pineapple, guava, passion fruit. With air freight delivery, fruits no longer seem to have a season nowadays, so take advantage of whatever happens to be in the market.

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Perhaps it is no accident that all these desserts date from the 19th Century. They have a prosperous luxury, a flamboyance that ignores fashion or epoch. Served with coffee or tea in the afternoon, or with a glass of sparkling white wine for an evening gathering, they celebrate the holidays in historic style.

DESSERTS GALORE

FOR HOLIDAYS FOR 12

Trifle

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Strawberry Charlotte Malakoff

Savarin with Tropical Fruit Salad

Suggested drinks: Rich white wine from Alsace or domestic Gewurztraminer, coffee or hot tea. Perfect for the do-it-yourself party, all the cooking for this menu can be completed three hours ahead. Note that individual recipes make six to eight servings, making enough for 12 servings.

Up to one week ahead bake savarin. Store in airtight container.

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Up to three days ahead make trifle, then refrigerate. Make charlotte, then refrigerate.

Up to 12 hours ahead prepare fruit salad, then refrigerate. Chill wine.

Up to three hours ahead make chantilly cream. Decorate trifle and charlotte, then refrigerate. Soak savarin with syrup, add glaze, then refrigerate.

About 15 minutes before serving, brew coffee or tea. Add fruit salad to savarin; set on table. Set trifle (and charlotte) on table.

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TRIFLE

1 (1-pound) poundcake

1/2 cup raspberry jam

1/2 cup medium-dry Sherry

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2 (1-pound) cans sliced pears or peaches, drained

1 quart milk

1/4 cup cornstarch

10 egg yolks

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2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

12 to 16 whole toasted almonds

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Cut cake in 1/2-inch slices. Sandwich slices with raspberry jam and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place cake in bottom of 3-quart glass serving bowl. Sprinkle with Sherry. Press cake cubes down lightly. Top with drained fruit, creating level layer.

Scald milk in saucepan. Stir together cornstarch, egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar in bowl. Whisk in hot milk. Return custard to pan. Bring just to boil, stirring constantly to thicken smoothly.

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Let cool slightly. While still warm, pour custard over fruit. Cover and refrigerate to set, at least 1 day and up to 3 days so flavor matures.

Not more than 3 hours before serving, whip cream to soft peaks. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla and continue beating until stiff. Place cream in pastry bag fitted with medium star tip. Pipe lattice of cream on top of trifle so custard shows through. Decorate edge with cream rosettes. Top each rosette with toasted almond. Chill trifle until serving time. Makes 6 servings.

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Note: Commercial poundcake may be used for preparing trifle. Dessert should be made one to two days ahead so flavors mingle and mellow.

STRAWBERRY CHARLOTTE MALAKOFF

Butter

16 to 18 ladyfingers

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3 tablespoons kirsch

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups ground almonds

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1 pint strawberries, sliced

1 3/4 cups whipping cream

6 to 8 whole strawberries for garnish

1 teaspoon vanilla

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Butter 2-quart charlotte mold or souffle dish. Line base with round of wax paper. Line sides of mold with ladyfingers, trimming to fit tightly. Sprinkle remaining ladyfingers with 1 1/2 tablespoons kirsch.

Cream butter. Add 1 cup sugar and beat until soft and light. Stir in ground almonds, sliced strawberries and remaining kirsch. Whip 3/4 cup cream to soft peaks. Fold lightly into creamed mixture. Do not beat or cream will curdle and separate.

Fill mold halfway with almond mixture. Add soaked ladyfingers. Add remaining almond mixture, smoothing top. Cover. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Up to 3 hours before serving, finish charlotte by trimming ladyfingers level with almond mixture. Unmold charlotte onto serving plate.

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Whip remaining 1 cup cream to soft peaks. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until stiff. Place cream in pastry bag fitted with medium star tip. Decorate base and top of charlotte with cream rosettes. Top charlotte with whole strawberries. Chill until serving time. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: 1/2 cup chopped mixed candied fruit may be substituted for strawberries.

SAVARIN WITH TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD

1 tablespoon dry yeast or 1/2 ounce compressed yeast

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1/4 cup lukewarm water

2 1/2 cups flour

4 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

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Sugar

2/3 cup unsalted butter

2 cups water

Peel and juice of 1 lemon

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4 pounds assorted tropical fruits, cut in pieces

3 tablespoons rum or 2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup apricot jam

Sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water. Let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Sift flour into bowl. Make well in center.

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Pour in dissolved yeast. Add eggs, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Mix with fingers, gradually drawing in flour to form soft dough. Cup hand and knead dough, lifting and letting fall with slap into bowl, until elastic and very smooth, about 5 minutes.

Cut butter in pieces. Set around edge of dough. Cover bowl with wet cloth. Leave in warm place until dough doubles, 45 to 60 minutes.

Generously butter 5-cup ring mold. Beat dough 1 to 2 minutes to expel air and work in butter. Spoon dough into prepared mold. Cover with wet cloth. Leave again in warm place to rise until dough fills mold, 30 to 40 minutes.

Bake savarin at 400 degrees until brown and shrinking from sides of mold, 20 to 25 minutes. Run knife around edge and turn out onto rack to cool. Savarin may be baked ahead and stored in airtight container up to 1 week or frozen.

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Up to 12 hours ahead, heat 1 cup sugar and water in saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon peel and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Cool. Place fruit in bowl. Strain cooled sugar syrup over fruit, tossing to mix. Cover and chill.

Up to 3 hours ahead, drain syrup from fruit salad. Bring syrup just to boil. Set savarin on rack over tray to catch drippings. Baste savarin with hot syrup, reheating any that falls into tray, until savarin is swollen and shiny. Stir any remaining syrup back into fruit with rum.

To glaze savarin, melt apricot jam in pan with 1 to 2 tablespoons water. Press through sieve into saucepan. Reheat until melted and brush savarin with glaze. Transfer to serving dish. Chill. Just before serving, fill ring of savarin with fruit salad. Serve remaining fruit salad separately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Savarin is best baked well ahead as cake absorbs maximum amount of fruit syrup when dry.

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