Serving: one 9-inch savarin, creating 10 slices
Resplendent. That's an apt description for this savarin, a lustrous and plump band of yeasty cake: buttery, lightly spongy (the better to absorb a syrupy concoction later on), and eggy, with just enough of everything else to make a soft dough that rises impressively and bakes into a winsome ring.
The ring mold typically used for cradling a savarin dough is not excessively deep and comes in a range of capacities, including, for those who just are not satisfied with making one big proper cake, miniature size. Truly die-hard bakers have a secret stash of small savarin molds lurking about their kitchens. I have painstakingly filled mine with the satiny, tacky dough, mold by mold, and this somewhat insane act takes me right back to a point in time in my childhood when I made tiny chocolate cakes for my family of dolls. (Always the baker.) Baby savarins are endearing, and a near-perfect vehicle for highlighting whatever summer fruit is in season—raspberries, peaches, cherries, blackberries, and such—or wintery poached dried fruit. But endurance must rule on that baking day.
The creation of this yeast dough hangs only on the ability to follow a recipe and possess a certain amount of patience while the dough develops. Impatience will tank the recipe. Compassion for the dough will not. This rather loose dough is made by combining a yeast mixture with a whole egg, extra egg yolks (three of them), vanilla (in the form of paste and extract), some sugar, flour, and salt. Softened butter is added by degrees to form a sleek and silky mass. The dough rises at room temperature in a bowl, then again once it is transferred to the mold. The baked savarin—burnished outside, flaxen inside, and so very tender—is treated to brushings of syrup and, later on, to an overlay of apricot glaze. Finally, after all this primping, the savarin is transferred to a serving plate and, somewhere on it, heaps of sweetened cream and fruit take up sweet space as well.
Sigh. Whimper. Moan.
Eggy Vanilla Yeast Dough
Ahead: best on baking day; or freeze for 2 weeks, defrost, bundle in aluminum foil, and reheat in a preheated 325 degrees F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, then imbibe it with syrup and glaze
For the dough, stir together the yeast, the 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and the warm water in a heatproof measuring cup. Allow the mixture to stand until swollen, 6 to 7 minutes.
Whisk 1-1/2 cups of the flour and the salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the whole egg, the egg yolks, the 3 tablespoons sugar, the vanilla bean paste (if you are using it), and vanilla extract. Stir in the yeast mixture, then add this to the whisked flour and salt. Combine the ingredients to a firm, shaggy dough stage, leaving any unincorporated flour. Add the softened butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough will look quite rough at this point, and the butter will not be completely dispersed within it. Turn the dough mixture into the bowl of a heavy-duty freestanding electric mixer. Set the bowl in place and attach the flat paddle. Beat on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour and continue beating for 5 minutes longer, stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the mixing bowl and flat paddle. At this point, the dough will be smooth, elastic, glossy, ropy, and very soft. The dough will leave a very streaky film on the sides of the mixing bowl and most of it will ball up on the paddle.
Scrape the dough into a bowl heavily coated with softened unsalted butter, cover tightly with a sheet of food-safe plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Compress the dough very lightly with your fingertips. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, film the inside of a 9-1/4 to 9-1/2-inch savarin mold (1-7/8 to 2 inches deep, with a capacity of 5 to 5-1/2 cups) with softened unsalted butter. Lift up the dough, pull it gently to extend it to a long band, then place it in the prepared mold, filling the mold evenly. The mold should be about one-half filled. Gently pat the dough to even it; if the dough is not leveled at this stage, the savarin may rise and bake lopsided. Cover the mold loosely with a buttered sheet of food-safe plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. The doubled-in-bulk risen dough should fill the pan up to about 1/4 inch of the rim (take care to watch for this, for if the dough extends past the rim, it will have over-risen, taste yeasty or overfermented, and may bake out of shape).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F in advance of baking.
Remove and discard the sheet of plastic wrap covering the savarin.
Bake the savarin in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set and a golden color on top. The fully baked savarin will show significant oven-spring, between 1/2 and 1 inch, and pull away slightly from the sides of the mold. Let the savarin stand in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert onto another cooling rack. Lift off the pan. Cool for 15 minutes.
Set the savarin, still on its cooling rack, on a jellyroll pan or other rimmed sheet pan. Apply the imbibing syrup to the top and sides of the warm savarin, using a wide, soft pastry brush. For the best-tasting cake, use all of the syrup and be patient, waiting for it to soak in before brushing on another layer. Eventually, the savarin will take in all of the syrup. Let the savarin stand for about 1 hour before glazing.
To finish the savarin, warm the prepared apricot glaze. Lightly brush the glaze over the surface, creating a sparkly veneer, using a soft pastry brush.
To serve, carefully transfer the savarin to a serving plate (it will be so beautifully light) and fill the center with the sweetened cream, piling it in oh-so-casually. Or, slice the savarin and accompany each section with a generous spoonful or two of the sweetened cream. Serve the savarin with sliced fresh or poached fruit, or berries, if you wish (see notes).
A scattering of raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries would add a fruity note to the yeast cake
Once the savarin is glazed, you can decorate the rounded edge with angelica, cut into small diamonds; crystallized violets; or dried, sweetened hibiscus flowers (available packaged from Trader Joe's); all must be made from non-chemically treated, food-safe-genus flowers and/or stems.
Serving: about 1 cup
Ahead: 3 days
Place the sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan, cover, set over low heat, and warm to dissolve the sugar. Uncover the saucepan, raise the heat to high, bring to the boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Add the rum, stir, and cook at a low boil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the syrup is lightly condensed to about 1 cup. Remove the syrup from the heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Tip out the syrup into a heatproof bowl and cool to lukewarm.
Use the syrup on the warm savarin.
Kirschwasser, a clear, cherry-flavored brandy, is a traditional addition to the sugar syrup, but I prefer rum: here, the rum is added after the sugar syrup solution has condensed (once the requisite boiling is completed) and the mixture is allowed to bubble further for 1 to 2 minutes, thus concentrating the flavor.
A lightly condensed syrup, rather than a watery one, is preferable for the way that it maintains the integrity of the crumb of the baked savarin as it soaks into the yeast cake.
If the syrup is made in advance and refrigerated (in an airtight container). Reheat it in a heavy saucepan before applying it to the surface of the baked savarin.
Serving: about 7/8 cup
Ahead: 2 weeks
Place the jam and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Stir, set over moderate heat, and bring to the simmer. Simmer the jam mixture for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Turn the jam mixture into a stainless steel strainer set over a heatproof nonreactive bowl, and smooth it through, using a heatproof spatula, leaving the solids in the strainer.
To use the glaze now, return it to a clean, dry saucepan. Bring to the simmer. Simmer for 30 seconds, then use immediately. Or, refrigerate the cooled glaze in an airtight container.
To use the prepared, refrigerated glaze, scrape it into a small, heavy saucepan, bring to the simmer over moderate heat, simmer for 30 seconds, then apply it to the syrup-enhanced savarin.
Serving: about 3 cups
Ahead: freshly whipped
Soft and Floaty Vanilla Cream
Chill a set of beaters and a medium-size mixing bowl for at least 45 minutes. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl and whip until just beginning to mound. Sprinkle over the sugar and continue whipping for 2 minutes longer, or until the cream forms soft, gently firm drifts. By hand, blend in the vanilla extract. Serve the cream immediately in large dollops.
Using superfine sugar, rather than confectioners' sugar (which contains a small percentage of cornstarch), gives the whipped cream a smoother, less chalky, sensation on the tongue.
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