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Rhode Island food is quirky and its desserts are no less unusual. The Avondale Swan glides onto our tables in a pool of chocolate syrup; we bite into cloudlike doughboys even though they are still too hot to eat simply because we can't wait; and what other state can lay claim to a dessert called the Tipsy Parson, a sherry-soaked sponge cake layered with custard. The state's ethnic heritage shows up in desserts our grandparents taught us how to make, and some of our most delicious sweet endings can be traced all the way back to the Native Americans who first lived in Rhode Island.
One can only imagine how this triflelike dessert got its name. Early British settlers in Rhode Island are among those credited with bringing the recipe to America. Under the innocent guise of having dessert, people could imbibe and perhaps even become a bit drunk.
1 (8-inch) sponge cake, about 1 and 1/2 inches thick
2/3 cup sweet sherry
3 eggs, plus 2 additional yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups light cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract butter, as needed
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted and crushed
On a sheet pan, split the sponge cake into two layers. Sprinkle each layer generously with the sherry. Place in the refrigerator.
To make the custard:
In the top part of a double boiler, combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Cook over, but not touching, simmering water.
In a saucepan, heat the cream just until it begins to steam. Add the cream gradually to the egg mixture, stirring constantly, and continue to cook until the mixtures coats a metal spoon. Remove the top part of the double boiler from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
Generously butter an 8-inch deep spring form pan. Place one layer of the sponge cake on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of almonds over the cake, then spread a layer of the custard.
Cover with the second layer of sponge cake and the remaining custard. Sprinkle evenly with the 1/4 cup crushed almonds. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Unmold onto a chilled platter.
Makes 6 servings.