I apologize in advance. This recipe is anything but simple. My father, the same dad who has never met a dessert recipe he didn’t want to try, discovered it recently in the New York Times. When we recalled that my brother Eddie’s birthday was coming up, any resistance there may have been to attempting this dessert was dashed. Never mind that on the day of, Ed couldn’t make it for dinner. The die was cast, Le Talleyrand was to be made, birthday boy or no birthday boy.
Le Talleyrand is a dessert consisting of a layer of cherries soaked in kirsch, covered by a layer of custard, a layer of meringue, and then flambéed upon serving. The recipe comes from Simone Beck, also known as Simca, Julia Child’s collaborator on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and author of Simca’s Cuisine. Christine Muhlke of the New York Times describes Simca as ” a woman so high-strung and exacting that she’s indexed in Child’s book with such minutiae as ‘hand injury of,’ ‘Julia’s contretemps with’ and ‘personality and temperament of’? Child called her ‘La Super-Française’; Paul Child called her ‘Sigh-Moan.’ No matter how refined her palate, her haughty, untelegenic French demeanor never won over the American public, and she quietly retired to her kitchens in Paris and Provence.” Of Le Talleyrand Ms. Muhlke wrote, “a fluffy, flambéed dessert that may mark the end of the era when dishes were named after the great men of history, or their mistresses.”
Le Talleyrand was delicious, a little complicated to make but doable, and the flambé part really cool. Especially when spooning the blue-flamed burning kirsch from the egg shell over the rest of the meringue. We probably didn’t put the egg shell in deep enough, our dessert looks a little more like a volcano than it probably should, but the ooh ahh factor was still there. Enjoy.
Le Talleyrand Recipe
- 2 16-ounce cans dark cherries, pitted
- 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup kirsch or dark rum
- 4 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- About 2/3 cup blanched almonds, finely ground
- 4 1/2 tablespoons flour, preferably cake flour
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 10 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar plus extra for sifting
- 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 7 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 Drain the cherries and reserve the juice. Put the cherries into a bowl with 1/3 cup of kirsch or rum and 3/4 cup of the juice from one of the cans of cherries, and let sit for at least half an hour, stirring once or twice.
2 Put the egg yolks and sugar into the top of a double boiler. (Save the neatest empty eggshell, trimming its edges with scissors.) Beat until fluffy and pale yellow, 2 or 3 minutes. Strain in the maceration liquid from the cherries, combining gently with a whisk. Stir in the ground almonds and flour. Set over low heat and stir constantly until the mixture forms a thick, smooth custard, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl set in an ice bath. Stir with a spatula until cold.
3 Whip the cream until the beaters leave light traces on the surface. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the confectioners’ sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla, until soft mounds form. Set aside.
4 Finishing the custard and the meringue.
a. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff but not dry.
b. Fold half of the egg whites into the cream until mixed.
c. Stir 3 tablespoons of the cream and egg whites into the custard to lighten it; then fold all the custard back into the remaining cream mixture. Set aside.
d. Add the remaining 8 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla to the remaining egg whites, and beat until glossy and the egg whites are stiff enough to hold their form when mounded on top of the custard (this may take several minutes).
5 Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9-by-12-inch oval baking dish. Spread the cherries on the bottom and pour the custard over them. Spread the meringue over the custard, leaving a small border and making a dome of meringue toward the center. Press the eggshell into the meringue so that it shows only as a well in the center. (The dessert can be made up to 1 hour in advance to this point; keep refrigerated.)
6 Sprinkle the meringue with the slivered almonds, then sift a little confectioners’ sugar over the top. Cook until the meringue is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Heat the remaining kirsch or rum in a small saucepan. Remove the dish from the oven, pour some of the alcohol into the eggshell, letting the rest run over the meringue, and set aflame. Bring flaming to the table, spooning the liqueur over the top to caramelize the sugar, until the flames go out.