This is a cake for a special spring or summer occasion — it’s not only delicious, but beautiful in appearance as well with its tailored whipped cream decoration. Ahead of time note: This dessert has a lot of elements, all of which may be prepared in advance. Bake the cake layer and refrigerate it up to 5 days before. Make the syrup and refrigerate it in a covered jar, and prepare the apricot purée several days in advance. You can even assemble the dessert in its mold a day or two in advance, but only unmold and decorate it the day you intend to serve it. This is loosely based on an elegant cake I tasted at the Villa Principe Leopoldo in Lugano several years ago.

Makes one 10-inch cake, about 16 servings


Apricot Puree

2 pounds RIPE apricots, rinsed, halved, and pitted

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

Rum Syrup

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup white rum

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 layers Hot Milk Sponge Cake, trimmed to 1-inch tall

Apricot Bavarian Cream

1/2 cup apricot nectar or water

2 envelopes (4 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored powdered gelatin

2 1/2 cups apricot purée, above

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped to a soft peak and refrigerated

Finishing

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped to a soft peak

2 tablespoons (about 1/2 ounce) toasted sliced almonds

One 10-inch springform pan and one 12- to 14-inch pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tube (Ateco #824)

  1. For the apricot purée, combine the apricots, water and sugar in a large saucepan or enameled iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Place on medium heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, cover the pan and let the apricots cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until they have completely disintegrated. Cool the mixture and puree it in a food processor or blender. Pack the purée into a plastic container, cover and refrigerate. Remember to remove the purée from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before preparing the filling from it.
  2. For the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a small bowl, cool and stir in the Calvados and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate if not using on the same day.
  3. To assemble, place one of the layers in the bottom of a spring form pan and use a brush to sprinkle it with less than half the syrup.
  4. For the apricot Bavarian cream, put the apricot purée into a large mixing bowl. Put the apricot nectar into a small heatproof bowl and use a fork to stir in the gelatin. Half fill a small saucepan or sauté pan with water and place over low heat. Once the gelatin has absorbed all the liquid and is wet looking, place the bowl in the water and let the gelatin melt. Once the gelatin has melted, remove the bowl from the hot water. Quickly re-whip the cream. Whisk 1 cup of the purée into the dissolved gelatin to cool it and whisk the gelatin mixture into the bowl of purée. Quickly use a large rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream.
  5. Pour half the Bavarian over the cake layer in the spring form pan, spreading it with a medium offset spatula and making sure it also covers the side of the layer. Quickly place the second layer on the filling and sprinkle on the remaining syrup. Pour the remaining Bavarian over the layer and spread smooth. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until set, preferably overnight.
  6. To finish the cake, insert a thin paring knife between the side of the cake and the side of the pan and, pressing against the pan, loosen the cake. Unbuckle the side of the pan and lift it off. Use a wide spatula to slide the cake from the springform base to a platter.
  7. Re-whip the decorating cream and use the pastry bag to pipe a series of stars into the center area of the cake. Sprinkle with a few pieces of sliced almonds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Kyra's Hot Milk Sponge Cake

This is the easiest and best-tasting sponge layer you can imagine. Thanks to my friend Kyra Effren, one of the world’s great bakers, for sharing this recipe. Kyra often serves this as a tea cake with a thin layer of raspberry preserves between the layers and a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar over the top – it’s elegant simplicity at its best.

Makes two 9-inch round layers, each about 1 1/2 inches deep


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Two 9-inch round cake pans, 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep, buttered and the bottoms lined with disks of parchment paper or buttered wax paper

  1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
  2. Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the butter is completely melted. Set aside in the pan.
  3. Stir the flour and baking powder together and sift onto a piece of wax paper.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the eggs by hand to break them up, then whisk in the salt. Whisk in the sugar in a stream, then whisk in the vanilla. Place on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until very light, about 3 minutes.
  5. Gently whisk in the warm milk mixture by hand. Use the whisk to fold the flour mixture into the liquid in 4 additions, again gently whisking to incorporate between additions. Using the whisk helps to prevent lumps from forming. Handle the whisk exactly as though you were using a rubber spatula for the folding.
  6. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops.
  7. Bake the layers until they are well risen and golden and feel firm when touched in the center with a fingertip, about 20 minutes.
  8. Use a sharp paring knife to loosen the layers from the sides of the pans, then invert to racks. Immediately re-invert the layers so that they cool with the paper on the bottom. Cool completely.
  9. Wrap and refrigerate or freeze.