When the first berries of the season appear, French pâtissiers start making fraisiers, light, sugar syrup moistened cakes that are split and filled with sliced strawberries and pastry cream or buttercream, then covered with a thin sheet of almond paste.
* 2 cups milk
* 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
* 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
* 6 large egg yolks
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
* 4 large eggs, separated
* 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
* 3 tablespoons water
* 1 tablespoon kirsch
* 3/4 pound strawberries, thinly sliced
* Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
* 4 ounces almond paste (1/2 cup)
1. MAKE THE PASTRY CREAM: In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds and salt just to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale, then whisk in the flour. Whisk 1 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan and whisk over low heat until the pastry cream is thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the butter until melted. Strain the pastry cream into a large bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
3. MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until they hold firm peaks. Add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 1 minute.
4. In another medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, the vanilla extract and the salt at medium-high speed until thick and light in color, about 1 minute. Fold half of the whites into the yolk mixture, then fold in 6 tablespoons of the flour. Repeat with the remaining whites and flour. Fold in the butter.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cake is golden and pulls away from the edge of the pan. Set the pan on a rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto a rack and let cool completely.
6. In a small saucepan, mix the 3 tablespoons of sugar with the water. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the kirsch.
7. Using a serrated knife, slice the cake in half horizontally. Transfer the cake bottom to a round 9-inch straight-sided glass bowl and brush with half of the kirsch syrup. Arrange a row of strawberry slices around the dish, then top the cake with the remaining sliced strawberries in an even layer. Spread all but 1 tablespoon of the pastry cream over the strawberries. Brush the cut side of the cake top with the remaining kirsch syrup and set it cut side down on the pastry cream.
8. Lightly dust a work surface with confectioners’ sugar and roll out the almond paste to a 9-inch round 1/16 inch thick. Spread the remaining 1 tablespoon of pastry cream on the top of the fraisier and cover with the round of almond paste.
MAKE AHEAD The recipe can be made through Step 6 up to 1 day ahead. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic and refrigerate the pastry cream and kirsch syrup