Silvia and her mother set about making sponge cakes that resemble little peaches, thanks to a reddish liqueur called alchermes.
⅔ cup (150 g) caster sugar
80 g softened butter cut into cubes
2⅔ cups (400 g) self-raising flour, sifted
4 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 cup (250 ml) alchermes liqueur (see Note)
1 cup (220 g) caster sugar, extra
mint leaves, to garnish
2 cups (500 ml) milk
rind of 1 lemon, in strips
1 vanilla bean, split in half, seeds scraped
4 egg yolks
4 tbsp caster sugar
40 g cornflour
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Infusing time 10 minutes
Cooling time 20 minutes
Preheat your oven to 170°C (150°C fan-forced) and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Cream the eggs and sugar until pale and frothy, then add the butter, a little at a time and beat well – you can either do this in a bowl using a wooden spoon or use a stand mixer (my favourite toy!). Gradually add the flour, milk and vanilla until your batter reaches a dropping consistency. Dollop large walnut-sized balls of batter onto the prepared baking tray, leaving plenty of room for spreading. Bake for 18–20 minutes or until pale golden and cooked through. Cool on the tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
In the meantime, make the custard. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan and bring to just below simmering. Remove from the heat, then add the lemon rind and vanilla and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy. You can do this by hand using a whisk or with hand-held electric beaters. Add the cornflour and mix it with a wooden spoon until combined.
Strain the infused milk, then gently pour it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly until smooth and well combined. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 3–4 minutes or until it becomes thick and luscious. Pour the custard into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic film so it doesn’t form a skin. If you’re not using it straight away, allow it to cool at room temperature, then transfer it to the fridge, where it will keep for up to 2 days.
Using a teaspoon, scoop out a little bit from the top of each cake to accommodate the filling. Fill the indents with custard, then sandwich with another mini cake.
Pour the alchermes into a bowl and tip the extra sugar into another bowl. Dip the sandwiched cakes into the liqueur, then roll them in the sugar and arrange them on a serving platter decorated with mint leaves.
• If alchermes is hard to come by or a little too extravagant for your taste, ruby-red Campari will make a suitable replacement.