Year of Grace, Day 129. Eton meets Manila, or improvisational baking

Have you ever dithered over which of two desserts to make, and then ended up creating an amalgam of them both? This is what happened to me the other day. I had been wanting to make Sans Rival for some time. Since over Christmas actually, when favourite (and only) daughter came to visit. She had been hankering for it, but between one thing and another, we ended up not having time to bake it together.

Sans Rival (pronounced by many Manilans with the “s”, btw, though those familiar with the French language don’t) is a Philippine version of the delectable French confections Succes and Dacquoise. They are, essentially, layers of nut-filled meringue sandwiched together with butter cream. In the Manila version, the nuts are cashews, while Dacquoise and Succes are made with almonds. (A renowned Manila bakery tops the whole confection with a layer of caramel syrup, that solidifies to a mirror of amber glass. Lovely to look at, exceedingly difficult to slice.) Since cashews are prohibitively priced here in Bonn, my intended Sans Rival would have to be a Dacquoise.

Now I am not averse to baking – to the contrary, it is one of my favourite pastimes. But on such a lovely sunny day, it seemed to me that spending time outdoors was way better than faffing about in the kitchen. And, it is almost spring, and I remembered the luscious strawberries we had in Spain just a few weeks ago. Dreamily I thought, why not an Eton Mess? That is an English confection based on strawberries — some crushed, some left in slices, a generous lot of them – with whipped cream and crumbled meringues, all left to mingle together and chill and firm up. It looks a frightful mess, but it is oh so definitely heavenly.

So, off to the local shops: meringues from the French patisserie, then cream and strawberries. Simple. What I hadn’t accounted for was that local strawberries do not come into season till much later. Oops! The only ones I could find were Dutch ones, and they were priced like gold. Okay, rapid rethink, and of course I was back to Dacquoise. A punnet of strawberries and some kiwis for décor – a bright and colourful foretaste of spring.

The Dacquoise recipe I used, from the internet, called for 6 eggs, but the resulting batter did not seem enough for three layers, so I only made two. I scattered lightly toasted almond slices over the meringue batter before baking, to give additional texture. I also wanted the nut meringue layers to be crisp, and baked them much longer than the 20 minutes the recipe called for, and at a lower temperature. I know this seems highly irregular, and my improvising, rather off-hand. After all, success in baking depends largely on controlling the chemical reactions of your ingredients with the appropriate temperature and duration of baking. However, I had made Sans Rival before, and from experience know that meringues take longer to bake than expected. (Yes, ovens can be idiosyncratic.) So I was fairly confident (not 100%, but over 75%, say) that all would be well with my meringue layers.

My butter cream turned out rather watery or, more precisely, boozy, because my hand slipped (accidentally on purpose) when I added rum to it. Assembling the layers with the boozily liquid butter cream was a bit, erm, fiddly. French-patisserie meringues to the rescue. I made a “third” layer of the meringues in between the two home-made nut meringue layers. Essentially forming a hedge to hold the boozy butter cream in. Scattered toasted almond slivers all over, and then the whipped cream swirled in with the butter cream in hopes of stabilizing it. And whipped cream around the sides and a bit on the topmost layer of nut meringue. Sliced strawberries and kiwis on top, and then off to the freezer to further firm up the butter cream.

It looked a frightful mess, but once frozen and cut up, it had managed to behave itself and looked eminently presentable. Once served, it was judged truly delectable and divine. Even by those who professed to be non-cake eaters. Ah, blessed relief! I have to thank the gods and goddesses of the kitchen and the hearth and the oven that my rather off-hand improvisations turn out way better than expected.

I shall be tweaking my Eton Mess-cum-Dacquoise or Sans Rival, but I have yet to come up with a name. Any suggestions? I hadn’t managed to take a photo, alas. It was all scoffed up before it occurred to me to take a piccie. I do promise to take a photo of future messy Dacquoise though, and share the recipe as well.

I leave you with a pink Hellebore in the rain from the garden. Good day, all!