Several years ago I had the privilege of studying for a week with Chef and cookbook author Madeleine Kamman at her home along with five other women chefs. It was an amazing week. Madeleine is a fount of knowledge and experience. To this day, I turn to my notes from that week, as well as to her cookbooks, when I am trying to better understand a cooking process or a classic method.
To cap the week off, we prepared a multi-course meal for ourselves. The dessert was a trio of miniatures. One of the items on this dessert plate was an ethereal citrus Bavarian cream, served in a delicate bone china tea cup. I'm not sure I had ever had a Bavarian cream before. I can't imagine that I made it through the Cordon Bleu pastry program without having made and tasted one. It is a classic part of the pastry repertoire. But we made (and tasted) a lot of things. Certainly if I had tasted one, it had not left an impression on me.
Even in a professional pastry kitchen, where I started my career, I had not come across one. This is most likely because Bavarian creams have fallen out of favor—due in large part I think to the large amount of gelatin that is generally used in order to make them hold their shape (inside of a Charlotte or turned out onto a plate to be served as a molded dessert cream). Since the one we made with Madeleine was not turned out of its mold for service, it had just enough gelatin to hold a soft set. When I was brainstorming ideas for a spring desserts class, I remembered that Bavarian and decided that I would include a strawberry-rhubarb Bavarian in my class.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, a Bavarian Cream is a dessert made by folding whipped cream into a base that has been stabilized with gelatin. Classically, the base is comprised of flavored crème anglaise, a fruit purée or a combination of the two. In my ideal world the resulting dessert should be somewhat like a cross between a panna cotta and a mousse.
Madeleine's formula for a Bavarian is 1 to 1 1/2 cups of base (if using a crème anglaise, make it with 1 c. milk, 3 or 4 egg yolks and 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar and flavor it as you like—with vanilla, citrus zest, ginger, espresso...), 1 t. of gelatin and 1 cup of Heavy cream that has been whipped until it is barely mounding. If you are going to serve it inside a cake or turn it out of the mold, then you need to double the amount of gelatin (or use a whole envelope).
For my first stab at the strawberry-rhubarb Bavarian, I followed the formula—I used 1 1/2 cups of a strawberry-rhubarb purée, a one cup batch of crème anglaise, 1 envelope of gelatin (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 t.) and 2 cups heavy cream. I was a little disappointed in my result. As I told a friend later—there was nothing wrong with it. If I had been working in a restaurant, it would have been served. But I would also have continued to work on it to improve it. It was just a little bit too light and subtle for me. Actually, if it had been a part of a dessert trio (as the citrus Bavarian had been), it probably would have pleased me more.
Before I made my next one I began to look around a little to see what other chefs were doing. I happened upon a post at Eggbeater about a strawberry-rhubarb-ginger Bavarian. I was very intrigued by this one because she had modernized it by replacing the crème anglaise with non-fat yogurt. I really liked this idea. Unfortunately, she didn't include her recipe in the post. I also still needed to get rid of what I considered to be the excessive airiness of my first attempt.
For my second attempt, I used a cup of whole milk yogurt (I must confess, I don't believe in non-fat) and 1 1/2 cups of my fruit purée for the base. I used the same amount (1 envelope) of gelatin and I cut the amount of heavy cream in half (to 1 cup). This is where things got interesting. The flavor was perfect—fruity and tangy. I really liked using the yogurt as part of the base. But the texture.... I can only compare it to a delicate rubber sponge. Even though there was less whipped cream, the foaminess seemed accentuated because it was more solid. Now I know why Bavarians have fallen out of favor. I love dessert, and I didn't eat any more of this one—even though I really liked the flavor.
I knew I had to reduce the amount of gelatin, but I wasn't sure by how much. I had messed with Madeleine's ratios by halving the amount of heavy cream in her formula—and I wasn't sure if whipped cream needed as much gelatin to obtain a soft set as a straight liquid would. So I did what I always do in situations like this, I turned to several reliable pastry books and made a chart to compare the amounts of gelatin used per cup of liquid in several different Bavarian recipes. The results were all over the map, varying from 1/2 t. (Madeleine) to 1 t., with 3/4 t. being the most common. If you look at the amount I used in my second version, you'll see that I was already at about 3/4 t. gelatin per cup.
So, for the final version, I reduced the gelatin to 1/2 t. per cup of liquid, or a total of 1 3/4 t. for the full recipe. The difference between the second and third versions was astonishing--with the only change being the amount of gelatin. The texture in the final version is creamy and light. Just what I had in mind. It may be my imagination, but even the flavor is better. I have a new found respect for the power of gelatin and a renewed appreciation for the reliability of Madeleine's methods and formulas.
I am already thinking about other fruit flavored Bavarians. Now that I have a formula that I like, I can just substitute a purée of whatever fruit, or combination of fruits, happens to be in season.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Bavarian1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
2 c. diced (1/2-inch) rhubarb, (10 oz. trimmed weight)
1 c. trimmed and quartered strawberries (about 5 oz. trimmed weight)
1 T. sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
2 T. orange juice, water or Grand Marnier
1 3/4 t. gelatin (this is less than a full packet—a packet contains 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 t.)
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. plain yogurt (250g)
1/3 c. sugar (65g)
Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the sugar is dissolved, add the rhubarb. Gently simmer until the rhubarb has softened and fallen apart—about 15 to 20 minutes.
While the rhubarb is cooking, place the strawberries in the food processor and process until puréed. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Stir in sugar and lemon juice to taste. Set aside (don't clean the food processor yet).
When the rhubarb is cooked, let cool slightly. Transfer to the food processor and purée. Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove the fibers. When cool, add to the strawberries. There should be about 1 1/2 cups sweetened fruit purée.
Place the orange juice in a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Set aside until the gelatin has absorbed the juice. If any dry granules remain, add a few drops more juice or some water. It will take about 5 minutes for the gelatin to bloom, or soften.
Whip the cream until it is thickened and barely holding soft peaks. It should look too soft. Chill until ready to use.
Place the yogurt in another bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the fruit purée. Whisk in 1/3 cup sugar.
Gently warm the remaining 1/2 cup fruit purée (in the microwave or in a saucepan). Pour the hot purée over the bloomed gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely melted. Whisk in the fruit and yogurt mixture. Place the bowl of fruit, yogurt and gelatin over an ice bath and stir with a rubber spatula until completely chilled and just beginning to thicken. Remove the bowl from the ice. Whip the already softly whipped cream into the fruit/yogurt base.
Pour or pipe the Bavarian cream into serving dishes. Chill until set.
Makes 8 to 9 half cup servings. Serve with sugared strawberries or a strawberry-rhubarb compote.
- A traditional Bavarian Cream is made with a Crème Anglaise, rather than a yogurt base. If you would like to make a more traditional Bavarian, prepare a Crème Anglaise with 1 cup milk, 3 egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Strain the hot Anglaise over the bloomed gelatin and stir until the gelatin is melted. Stir the Anglaise over an ice bath until it is chilled. Add the fruit purée and continue to stir until the base is beginning to thicken. Whip in the cream as for the yogurt Bavarian.
- This recipe can be used to make any fruit Bavarian. Simply substitute 1 1/2 cups sweetened fruit purée for the strawberry-rhubarb purée.
- If you prefer a lighter Bavarian, you may double the amount of whipping cream. Increase the gelatin to a full packet.