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posted: 4/14/2010 12:01 AM

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1 tablespoon cornstarch

1¾ cups whole milk

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1 vanilla bean

3 large eggs, separated

½ cup, plus 3 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 rounded cup apricot, raspberry or strawberry jam

1 teaspoon water

12-15 ladyfingers

Oloroso or palo cortado sherry, optional

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of the milk. Set aside.

Pour the rest of the milk into a small, heavy saucepan. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Throw in the split bean as well, along with the cornstarch mixture. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then whisk in the hot milk. Pour everything back into the saucepan, set it over low heat, and whisk until the custard thickens and is perfectly smooth. Don't let it boil. Remove from the heat, and whisk in 2 tablespoon of the sugar. Set aside to cool.

In a small pot, gently melt the jam with the water until runny, and pour over the bottom of a medium (11-inch-by-7-inch) baking dish. Lay the ladyfingers on top of the jam and sprinkle with a little sherry, if using. Strain the cooled custard through a sieve over the ladyfingers.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then whisk in the 1/2 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, to make a firm, shiny meringue. Spoon over the custard and sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar on top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold on top and crisp when you tap it. Serve warm.

Serves six.

"Supper for a Song" by Tamasin Day-Lewis (2010 Rizzoli)

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