Aha Tortoni with Wild Infused Sherry

11:30 am on 20 May 2013

This is a coming-out party for a heavenly dessert recipe that my small family has tried to keep secret for over 45 years. As a teenager, my mother Mary Knox visited her Auntie Jean in Canada who gave her the recipe. Mary brought it back to New Zealand and began to serve it at dinner parties. People begged her for the recipe many times, but she would only give it to good friends who were leaving the country. It was also our special-treat dessert for birthdays and Christmas.

Auntie Jean called it ‘sherry tortoni’, as did we, and there are quite a few recipes around with this name. Yet our family version is quite different from every other I’ve seen, so to publish it I’ve altered the name to reflect the excitement this dish generated during my and my sister Andrea’s childhood: Andrea recalls that as a small child she came to believe the dish was called ‘Aha!’, because whenever Mum was making it and we asked what was for dessert, that was all she would reply. I’d like to thank Mum and Andrea for allowing me to share this recipe, breaking the code of silence we’ve shared for as long as I can remember!

Now we’re curious. This recipe must have come from someone before Auntie Jean. Perhaps someone reading this might have clues to its origins?

From A Forager's Treasury: A New Zealand guide to finding and using wild plants by Johanna Knox, published by Allen and Unwin.

Serves 4–6.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet vanilla wine biscuits
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter or butter substitute, softened
  • ¼ cup sherry

Method

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

Crumb the biscuits in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to pound or grind them to crumbs.

Beat the egg whites until fairly stiff, beating in a little of the caster sugar so that they hold their shape while you prepare the other ingredients.

Without washing the beaters, cream the butter thoroughly.

Add the remaining sugar and cream well again.

Add egg yolks and beat until fluffy and pale.

Add sherry and beat until combined.

Gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

Arrange this mixture and the crumbs in alternate thin layers in a glass dish or individual serving dishes, starting and ending with crumbs.

Cover and chill overnight.

Variations

For a dairy-free tortoni, use an unsalted butter substitute.

For a gluten-free tortoni, use gluten-free biscuits instead of wine biscuits.

Use a wild infused unsalted butter.

Use a wild infused sherry or other spirit.

Tip

Eggs are easier to separate when they are cold — straight from the fridge — so do that ahead of time then leave the separated eggs covered on the bench to reach room temperature before using.

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