Smitten with Poppy Seed Lemon Cake

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I had eight egg yolks leftover from a previous recipe and I was originally going to make Momofuku’s crack pie (because the Pie had requested the same).  But then I realized that the recipe makes TWO pies, and I don’t really like the dish itself — it’s just too sweet for me. No way can I work through one of those pies, let alone two.  So I decided to make Smitten Kitchen’s Poppy Seed Lemon Cake instead.  Not to be mistaken for lemon poppy seed cake, this crumbly confection has a mere hint of citrus and a heckuva lot of crunchy seeds.

So if you want to go this route, get to it!  Preheat your oven to 325°F and then generously butter and flour a 8″ fluted Bundt or tube pan.

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Go ahead and butter the dull side of a 10″ piece of tin foil while you’re at it (helpful hint for North American readers, at least: foil comes in 12″ wide rolls, so if you tear off a near-perfect square you should be all right).

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Melt 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup, or 1/2lb) and set that aside to cool a bit.

Poppy Seed Lemon Cake 1

Scrub 2 large lemons and grate the zest from them.

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Now, in the bowl of your electric mixer, plop 1 whole egg, 8 egg yolks, and 2/3 cup granulated sugar.

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Beat that up on medium-high speed for about 8 minutes (I’m not even joking).  Watch how the mixture transforms to this pale and fluffy amazingness.  Beat in the lemon zest.

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Sift on top of that 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup corn starch, and a pinch of salt.

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Use a rubber spatula to fold that in.  The corn starch will make the spatula catch against the edges of the bowl but you must persist.

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Put the mixer on medium speed and trickle in the butter.

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And then add in 1/2 cup poppy seeds.  I know, it’s a lot of poppy seeds.  Don’t worry, it’s not going to get you high.

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Pour that into your prepared pan.

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Use the buttered tin foil to tightly seal the top of the pan (this keeps the cake from drying out and allows its own steam to make it a little fluffier).

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Bake that sucker for 45 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Take the foil off and let the pan cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes.

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Then invert the pan and let the cake fall out.  If you buttered the pan enough this won’t be a problem, but if it sticks, use a butter knife to gently pry it away from the sides of the pan.

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Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before serving (or it will fall apart on you).  Dust the top with icing sugar as decoration.

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Now, I didn’t feel right wasting the juice of those 2 lemons, so I heated up the juice, together with about 3 tablespoons of sugar, to make a wee glaze to go on top, to boost the lemony-ness of the cake, for those who were interested.

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Eggs Benny, Two Ways

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Two weeks ago the Pie and I decided to head downtown for a late Saturday breakfast and we ended up at the Bagel Cafe, which is consistently voted as having the best breakfast in town almost every year.  We’d never been before, so it was an interesting experience — the place is pretty cozy so I wouldn’t recommend going in a big group — but the menu was massive and I had the best breakfast I have ever had.  It was eggs Benedict served with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dreamy, creamy Hollandaise, but instead of the standard English muffin, this poached beauty was perched atop a genuine Newfoundland cod fish cake.  It was truly one of the more divine things I have eaten in recent memory.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.  So I had to recreate it.  I mean, who did I think I was?  This, then, is what I did the following weekend.

So first, for the man I married who refuses to eat fish, I whipped up another batch of English muffins.  And then I learned that he has never had eggs Benedict before.  I was shocked.  I order them pretty much every time we go out for breakfast, but it never occurred to me to find out if he had ever done the same.  And then I made the fish cakes, which conveniently store well in the refrigerator.

Eggs Benny Two Ways 3

For the Hollandaise, you want to get your whisking arm limbered up.  Set a large pot of water to simmer on your stove and find a metal bowl that fits snugly over the opening but that does not touch the water (if you’re poaching eggs you probably have a large pot of water already on the simmer so this makes things easy).  While that’s heating up melt as well 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and set that somewhere convenient.

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Into the metal bowl goes 3 egg yolks and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Whisk that until it’s frothy.  

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Set the bowl over the pot and keep whisking.  Lift the bowl away from the heat every once in a while to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.

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Keep whisking until you produce a thick creamy substance that forms strings when you lift the whisk away.  This is called a sabayon, and that’s basically the structure of your Hollandaise base right there.

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Away from the heat, and whisking all the while, trickle in your nice hot melted butter and mix until fully incorporated.

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Season with salt and pepper.

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And maybe a little Tabasco sauce.  Taste it and season again accordingly.

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Keep the Hollandaise warm (but not hot) while the rest of your chaotic morning is going on.  I did this by putting it a bowl of hot water.  This is enough sauce for 4-6 eggs, by the way.

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You should also be toasting your English muffins (if you’re using them) and frying up your fish cakes (which you should be eating because they’re awesome).  And if you’re using peameal bacon, fry that up as well.

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Now everything else is a matter of timing.  Everyone has their own methods for poaching eggs, and how long they take will depend on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking, water temperature, blah blah blah.  Gordon Ramsay had a neat tip, though: swirl the water into a vortex before sliding in your egg.  The circular direction of the water will ensure that all those little tendrils of egg will end up stuck to the egg itself, making the finished product nice and round.  I also tried the Julia Child method here, where you poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg with a pin.

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Then you get your water simmering and you dunk each egg for 10-15 seconds and then you haul them out.  This pre-cooks the whites a little bit so the egg stays in shape a bit better.

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THEN you add a bit of vinegar to the water.

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And crack your eggs into the barely simmering stuff, one by one. Let them do their thing for 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard you like ’em poached. When they were done I plopped them in a bowl of hot water to stay warm while I set everything up.  This also washes the vinegar off the eggs. Drain them on a clean towel before you put them on your muffins or they’ll get soggy.

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Smear a dab of Hollandaise on your toasted muffin, layer on a piece of peameal bacon, follow that with the egg and more Hollandaise and a sprinkle of parsley or chives and salt and pepper.

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Alternately, plop a dollop of sauce on your crispy fish cake, ladle on the egg, more sauce, and a flake of smoked salmon.

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Eat it while it’s hot!

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Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I had to fill in (on rather short notice) for one of the members of my Sweet Treats group at work, and so this is what I came up with.  I LOVE (love, love, love) meringues.  Always have.  In fact I think they’re the first thing I ever baked.  And so every time I make something with egg yolks I take advantage of the extra whites and whip up a batch.  The Pie isn’t a huge fan of the crispy, chewy, sugary goodness, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.  I’ve even branched out and made different varieties of chocolate meringue, one of which I posted about here.  But I keep seeing fruity versions, so I thought I’d give that a go.  Most of the recipes call for food colouring and raspberry or strawberry extract, neither of which are particularly yummy to me.  I mean, I understand why you would use them in this case — the fluffy egg whites are pretty delicate and would collapse if you put too much heavy stuff into the mix.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

But I think we can give this a bit of a go, with some real fruit.  We just have to be very careful.

What you need is some egg whites, at room temperature.  I have some pasteurized egg whites that came in a carton which has been sitting in my freezer since Cait and Jul were here, so I might as well use that. Then you need some cream of tartar, which is your stiffening agent. And some sugar.  For sweetness.  Obviously.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I prefer the ease of good old regular sugar.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

And you need some fruit.  I’m going to use about a cup and a half of frozen raspberries here, which I thawed, and I’m going to gently stew them for a little bit with 1 teaspoon corn starch.  To prevent lumps of corn starch forming, mix the spoonful of starch with a small amount of the raspberry juice first, to form a slurry (this technique works really well when adding thickener to gravies, too).  I added in a tablespoon or so of sugar, just to get rid of the bite of the raspberry acid.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Then I’m going to strain them (and by that I mean shove the mess through a sieve with a spoon), and come out with a nice little coulis.  Let that cool for a bit.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Now you can start your meringues.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

The regular proportions I use come from The Joy of Cooking, and involve 4 egg whites1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon vanilla (which I made from rum!) and 1 cup sugar.  You can multiply or divide this recipe however you wish.  In my carton o’ egg whites the label says there is the equivalent of 8 egg whites, so I’m going with that proportion, which is a double batch.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Of course, I didn’t learn until after I’d put it all together that pasteurized egg whites (such as those that come in a carton) do not lend themselves well to making meringue.  So I had to start all over again.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
SO very much not what I was aiming for.

So you have your room temperature egg whites, and you chuck them in the bowl of a mixer with your cream of tartar and your rum/vanilla, and you beat the crap out of it with your whisk-y thing.  When you’ve got nice foamy peaks, you can start adding your sugar in, a little bit at a time.  Keep beating until you have nice firm peaks.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
That’s more like it!

These peaks not only hold their own weight, but they can support the weight of the heavy metal whisk as well!

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Once the egg whites form stiff peaks, you can gently fold in your coulis.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I spooned the meringue stuff onto the baking sheets in decent cookie-sized heaps, and ended up with 42 of them.  Bake them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (maybe a bit longer if they’re still squishy on the bottom, and make sure to rotate your sheets if you’ve got them on two levels), and let them cool inside the oven after you’ve turned it off.  If you cool them too quickly they’ll collapse.  Store them in an airtight container and make sure to eat them all within a few days of baking.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
Greetings from inside the oven …

These are strongly reminiscent of those fruit-flavoured hard candies that they hand out in restaurants, that you suck on for a while and then you chew and the inside is all squishy and sticks together.  That’s what biting on these is like.  Taste is very similar, too.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Snow Day Dinner: Gluten-Free Linguini

Snow Day Dinner

Fussellette has recently discovered that she is a celiac and can no longer digest wheat gluten.  So now when we have her for dinner we have to take that into account, and can no longer offer the very dough-heavy meals that are traditional favourites for our Newfoundland friends.

Friday here in St. John’s was a snow day.  The whole city, including the court systems, the municipal and provincial governments, were shut down due to a sudden snow squall.  Fussellette decided to brave the winter weather, however, and made it to our house for dinner.  In honour of the weather, I decided on some form of comfort food, and in my mind that usually equals pasta.  For Fussellette, that means gluten-free pasta. This recipe makes enough for four servings.

Fortunately Sobeys has a large selection of gluten-free flours to choose from.  Just remember, however, when you’re baking with gluten-free flour, such as a rice flour, you still need a thickener, such as a starch, and a binding agent to replace the gluten.  Usually the binding agent is something called xanthan gum.

Snow Day Dinner

So to make this pasta, I had to do some mixing.

In a bowl, mix 1 1/3 cup brown rice flour, 2/3 cup arrowroot starch, 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1 teaspoon fine sea salt.  Whisk that together thoroughly.

Snow Day Dinner

In a smaller bowl, whisk together 2 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks.  Save the whites for an omlette or meringue or something.  Add in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water and mix again until it’s fully combined.

Snow Day Dinner

Now comes the fun part.  You can simply pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and stir, or you can do it on the counter in the old fashioned way.  Dump the dry stuff carefully out on your work surface.  Using a scraper, make a deep well in the centre.

Snow Day Dinner

Carefully pour in the egg mixture.

Snow Day Dinner

Using the scraper again, and your hands, start mixing the flour into the egg.  Work quickly, or your egg may form a river that will wind its way off your counter top.  The scraper, I found, is handy for cutting through the dough to make sure it mixes properly.

Snow Day Dinner

It should be cohesive but not tacky. Feel free to add more flour or water if you’re not getting the right consistency. Form the finished dough into a long cylinder and cut it into four sections.

Snow Day Dinner

Flatten those sections, wrap them tightly in plastic, and refrigerate them until you’re ready to make pasta.

Snow Day Dinner

You have a few options in how to make your pasta.  You could roll it out by hand and then cut it into long strips, but there is so much room for error in that, especially if you are working with a gluten-free pasta that barely sticks together on its own.

Snow Day Dinner

I opted to use a pasta maker.  This one here seems to be the standard one.  My parents own the same one so I know how to use it.  Most people who have a pasta maker own this one.  You can find them pretty cheap in second-hand stores.  I guess people get them as wedding presents and then never use them.  That’s where this one came from, and it had never been used before we busted it out.

Snow Day Dinner

So we used our awesome machine to thin out and cut our pasta into linguini.  We were originally going to go with spaghetti but we were concerned the pasta wouldn’t hold together all that well if it were smaller.  I recommend using two people to operate a pasta maker.  It may be awkward trying to figure out whose arms go where, but it’s handy to have one person operate the crank while the other feeds the dough through the machine and pulls it out the bottom to prevent tangling.

Snow Day Dinner

We laid the cut pasta out for a few hours to dry a bit, just to make sure it wouldn’t completely dissolve when we cooked it.

Snow Day Dinner

To cook, add a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil to your water before you boil it.

Fussellette said that this pasta was better than the stuff she finds at the store, because once the gluten-free pasta is dried it is hard to cook it all the way through and she says it’s often chewy on the inside.  Because this stuff is fresh it takes only about 6 minutes to cook and you know it will be nice and tender throughout.

Snow Day Dinner

Stay tuned on Wednesday to see what we did with it!

Blue Egg Group

Happy Friday the 13th!

Blue Egg Group

I do not suffer from triscadecaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.  Normally it’s an extremely lucky day for me.

And true to form, what do I get but some fresh St. Phillips BLUE eggs, a gift from Miss Awesome?  It’s always my lucky day.

Blue Egg Group

Aren’t these beautiful?

Blue Egg Group

I don’t want to waste them on something banal, so stay tuned for the amazingness I plan to create with them.

Blue Egg Group

I have a number of project ideas lined up for the next few weeks, but they all take a bit of time, so please be patient with me if the posts you’ve been seeing are a little simpler than you are used to.  As Blackadder would say, it’s all part of my cunning plan …

A Trifle Too Much

When I made Chel and Invis’ ivy vanilla wedding cake, I ended up with a lot of leftover ingredients.

For one thing, I had an enormous amount of actual cake itself, left from when I cut the rounded tops off the tiers.  I had enough to create a whole other cake if I so desired.  I had 12 egg yolks left from separating the whites.  And I bought wayyy too much whipping cream.

I don’t know about you, but that screams TRIFLE to me.  A LOT of trifle.  So I sent out an email to ten of my nearest and dearest:

You guys busy Sunday night?

I have leftover bits from the wedding cake and too much whipping cream and a bunch of yolks waiting to be made into custard, so I was thinking I’d make a trifle. 

HOWEVER,

I can’t make said trifle unless I have plenty of people to eat it, because it’s going to be huge.  Spouses and significant others are welcome.

Bell central, 8PMish, SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY?

a

Stef wrote back not five minutes later:

TRIFLE I LOVE TRIFLE. You absolutely will not need to worry about the number of attendees required for consumption. I think I have a special funnel/hose device specifically designed for consuming trifle. When I was a child, Dad would park outside events at the church and we’d decide to go in based on how many different trifles I could smell. I can tell you exactly how tipsy a tipsy trifle is from 40 yards (+/- 10 proof). I suspect trifle is responsible for any love of jesus I may have; during my churchgoing days as much of 17% of my body weight was derived from eating trifles on feast days, high holies, birthdays, vestry meetings, and Sundays.

After that, it was easy to get a “yes” from every invitee, even if some of them didn’t know what trifle was.  Kristopf and his lady friend even said they would show up “a trifle early.”  Ha.

If you don’t know what trifle is, just click the Wikipedia hyperlink above where I talk about screaming trifle.  Because it’s a British invention, I figured I should go to the BBC website for a real proper custard recipe.  I modified it, of course.

So I have my 12 egg yolks.  The recipe calls for 8 but this makes it extra custard-y.  Add to that 2oz granulated sugar and 4 teaspoons corn starch.Whisk that silly.  Leave it to come to room temperature.In a large saucepan, bring a large amount of dairy product (1250mL) to a simmer on low heat.  I used half whipping cream and half milk.Pour that hot milk into your yolks, a little at a time, whisking all the while.  You don’t want the yolks to curdle or cook, so this is why it’s crucial that they are warmed up gradually.Pour that back into the pot and bring to a simmer again, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened.  Then you can remove that from the heat and allow it to cool completely.While that’s cooling, you can prepare your other ingredients.  Here I washed and sliced 2 pints each fresh raspberries and strawberries.I also had to improvise a trifle bowl, because my mother doesn’t own one either.  These jars, however, will do.  They used to hold battery acid.  Now they house random collections of sea-related items.  Don’t worry, I washed the jar first.When your custard is cool, get everything else you need handy.  I whipped up 500mL whipping cream, adding a bit of sugar and some maple extract.  I pulled down the brandy from the liquor cabinet.  Trifle is traditionally made with sweet sherry but we were out.  I also heated up a 750mL jar of raspberry jam in the microwave until it was nice and runny.

Now we begin.

Start by crumbling a layer of your cake in the bottom of your bowl (or jar).  Traditional trifle uses sponge cake, but slightly stale wedding cake tops work just peachy.

Drizzle about an ounce of brandy over that.  You can use juice or soda instead of booze, but you need liquid to make the cake mushy.  Mushy is key.

Then some jam.

Then custard, whipped cream, and fruit.

Repeat that again.

And again.  Make sure to use all your ingredients.  No need to measure.  Top with extra fruit.

Look at those lovely layers.

Chill that in the refrigerator for a few hours until your trifle party arrives.

Shall we trifle?  As you can see, Stef was first at the jar.  And last.

Let’s trifle with some trifle.

And there was absolutely NONE left when we were done.

 

 

 

Delicious Disaster

Well.

I should know by now that experimenting with recipes before a dinner party is not a good idea.  But who else can I experiment on but my hapless dinner guests?

My goal was a dense, gooey, flourless chocolate cake, maybe with a glossy dark chocolate ganache poured over top.  I thought I had found the ideal recipe here.  It had four simple ingredients and no-nonsense instructions.  It even gave me the opportunity to use my kitchen scale, which had long sat unused.  Working in metric is such fun.

I’ll give you the recipe here, and then you can see for yourself how things went horribly wrong.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (that’s about 350°F for those of you who don’t have both measures on your ovens).  Grease (with lots and lots of butter) a 22cm/9″ cake pan and set that aside.

Measure yourself out 250g dark chocolate and chop that sucker into pieces.

Melt that in a double boiler with 100g butter until smooth.  Remove from the heat.

Separate 4 large eggs.  Sift 175g icing sugar into a bowl, add the 4 yolks, and whisk until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.

In yet another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until soft peaks form.

Using a metal spoon, gradually fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan.  Mine nearly filled it, so I put a pizza pan underneath to catch any spills.  I needn’t have worried, it turns out.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface begins to crack but the centre is still gooey.

Alas, though the cake baked up perfectly and smelled divine, it wouldn’t come out of the pan, no sir.  Not at all.  I don’t even think lining the pan with parchment paper would have helped.

This is it after it cooled.

I ended up with warm, gooey, dense chocolate cake bits in a pile on a plate.

With three hours until the dinner guests arrived, the Pie said, “Well, you have time to make another cake.”

I gave him a dark look.

“Or,” he says, backtracking, “you could make a trifle?”

Huzzah!  Dessert is saved!  Another floor pizza crisis averted.

Of course, having never made trifle in my life (I save that duty for my mother-in-law, because Mrs. Nice does it so well), I do not own a trifle bowl.  Not to worry, I will improvise.  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a trifle bowl someday, hint, hint …

Trifle is all about the layers.  The traditional version is a sponge cake, usually soaked with some form of alcohol, like brandy or sherry, topped with fruit, custard, and whipping cream in alternating layers.  In a straight-sided container like a trifle bowl you can see all the layers and the effect is quite pretty.

This being a chocolate cake, I thought the custard would be inappropriate.  If I had more time, I would have made chocolate pudding as a substitute for the custard, but I didn’t have the time needed for the pudding to set.  Instead, I opted for a strawberry fruit sauce with drizzled melted chocolate between the layers of whipped cream, and topped with fresh raspberries.  I drizzled a wee bit of Grand Marnier over the cake and let that sink in.

When I made the fruit sauce I added a little bit of corn starch just so it would thicken, and then I made sure to let it cool.

I added butter to the melted chocolate so that when it cooled it wouldn’t be as hard as it was originally.

I also added a wee bit of cream of tartar to my whipped cream so that it would hold its shape better while chilling in the refrigerator.

Then I did my layering …

Gooey cake.  Drizzled chocolate.  Strawberry goodness.  Whipped cream.  Repeat.

Drop a handful or two of fresh raspberries on top and drizzle the remaining chocolate all over and we’re set.

The layering doesn’t look as pretty from the side but we have to sacrifice aesthetics sometimes.  Chill that sucker for a couple hours then feed it to your unsuspecting dinner guests with a sob story about your failed dessert.