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Bavaresi!

Bavarese sounds like, and is, the Italian for Bavarian Cream, a dessert defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as a "custard enriched with whipped cream and solidified with gelatin [that] can be flavored with chocolate, coffee, fruits, and the like and is usually molded in fancy shapes and garnished with fruits and sweet sauces;" they go on to say that the dish originated in either France or Bavaria. This may be so, but doesn't mean that the concept hasn't spread, and there are a great many Italian versions on the theme too. In part because a wild berry-fruit bavarese is a delightfully refreshing summer dessert, but also because Bavarian creams are as versatile as they are varied and work well in winter too. In particular, their airy elegance makes them an ideal closure for a long, multi-course meal when something heavier would prostrate most of the diners. They can also be a good accompaniment for many dessert wines, because though they are sweet they are generally not terrifically sweet, and therefore will not overwhelm the wine.

But what is a Bavarian Cream? As the Encyclopedia says, a custard thickened with gelatin, and this brings up a couple of important points. Italian recipes invariably call for sheets of colla di pesce, fish glue, which is a delicate flavorless gelatin made by boiling fish bones and heads until they give up all their collagens, and then filtering and drying the resulting liquid. It comes in sheets of several sizes; the most common are about 7 inches by 2 inches, and which weigh about 5 grams, a fifth of an ounce. According to the old edition of The Joy of Cooking, an ounce of gelatin (i.e. gelatin in packets) is equivalent to six medium-size (4.5 by 6-inch) sheets, and will thicken a quart of liquid. The New edition doesn't discuss conversion factors but does have quite a bit to say about figuring out what went wrong if the dessert doesn't come out quite right the first time.

Using gelatin is actually a two-step process, and this is one case where you have to go by the rules: Begin by softening the gelatin for at least 5 minutes in cool water, during which it will absorb water and expand. Then heat it in hot liquid until it dissolves, gently stirring. How to tell if it is dissolved? If the liquid is transparent dip a spoon into it; what runs off should be clear, like a glaze, with no beading. If the liquid is opaque, stir until the spatula slips over the bottom of the pot. In any case, assuming the gelatin was properly soaked, it will dissolve within 30 seconds.

The Authors of the Joy of Cooking say that problems in texture and consistency of a gelatin-based dessert are usually attributable too much or too little gelatin's being used. The standard packets used in the US contain about 2 1/4 teaspoons, which will be enough to gel 2 cups (500 ml) liquid. If we check the conversion factor from the older edition, we see that this comes out to about 2 1/2 sheets. The authors also note that the standard packet will jell slightly larger volumes of liquids that already have some body, for example milk, and that if beaten egg whites or whipped cream enter the picture, less gelatin is required. One should also note that pineapples and some other tropical fruits contain enzymes that resist jelling, and therefore must be cooked before they go into something with gelatin.

Finally, desserts with gelatin require several hours of setting time before they can be unmolded, especially if the mold is elegantly patterned. To unmold, either dip the mold in hot water for a few seconds, and then invert the dessert onto the serving dish and remove the mold (you may need to slip a knife along an edge to break the seal), or set the molded dessert on the serving platter, wipe the mold with a towel dipped in boiling water, and then remove it.

HAVING SAID ALL THIS, some recipes. To begin with, three which may come as a surprise: Savory side dishes that will work quite nicely in the course of a light lunch, especially in the warmer months:

Bavarese al Pomodoro
Tomato bavarese, rimilar in some ways to an aspic, but lighter and quite refreshing.

Bavarese Vellutata
An unusual, delicate mixed vegetable Bavarian cream that's also quite elegant.

Bavarese ai Peperoni
Beautiful aromas and rich hearty flavors from this bell pepper Bavarian Cream.

And these are sweet:

Bavarese Arlecchino
Harlequin in the sense of many colored, like the robes of the court jester. A happy, elegant dessert.

Bavarese ai Fichi
A tasty, figgy, cinnamon-laced Bavarian cream.

Bavarese alla Frutta
A basic Bavarian Cream that can be made with many kinds of fruit, and therefore in any season.

Bavarese al Mandarancio
A Mandarin orange Bavarian Cream; the recipe will also work with other citrus fruit, and should you have a bottle of Limoncello...

Bavarese alle Spezie
A gingery marvel that will work well in the winter holidays!

Bavarese di Panettone
Panettone is Milano's traditional Christmas cake, and very fine eating it is, too. It's also quite versatile, lending itself very well to being stuffed or reworked. For example, if you have leftover panettone (a distinct probability in Italy, where people often bring panettoni when they go visiting during the holidays) you could make this Bavarian cream, which is elegant enough for either Santo Stefano (the day after Christmas), or New Year's Eve.

Recipes From The Net

Bavarian Strawberry Cream
The classic German recipe, from Tatyana Gordeeva, German Culture Guide.

Chocolate Bavarian Cream Pie
A libidinous looking recipe from Grandma's Cookbook, a Texan site.

White Chocolate Bavarian Cream
A libidinous, not-too-sweet version from Stephanie Zonis. Extremely detailed.

A Presto,
Kyle Phillips

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